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Blame the snow for February’s unusual unemployment news

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If you are laid off from your job, then you may be eligible for unemployment insurance, but you must abide by the rules. Some people misunderstand their legal responsibilities when they receive these benefits, which can lead to a commission of fraud.
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If you are laid off from your job, then you may be eligible for unemployment insurance, but you must abide by the rules. Some people misunderstand their legal responsibilities when they receive these benefits, which can lead to a commission of fraud.

The Tri-City economy did something unusual in February.

The unemployment rate went up instead of the usual down, according to figures released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department.

Unemployment doesn’t usually rise in February in the Mid-Columbia. In typical years, the construction and agricultural industries are hiring as they emerge from their winter slowdowns, thinning the number of people seeking jobs.

Instead, the local unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in February, up from 7.1 percent in January and 7.1 percent the prior February.

Blame the 23.1 inches of snow that fell in February and the lingering effects of the 35-day partial federal shutdown for the downturn, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist.

“This is abnormal,” she said.

The good news: Although 3.7 more inches of snow fell in early March, employment was already on the rebound.

“We are expecting to be back to regular (unemployment) decreases in March, April and May, as this was all corrected by the end of February,” she said.

Suljic said the unusual spike in February is not a symptom of a larger problem. Issues would have materialized in the adjusted employment figures, but didn’t.

The local economy grew by 3.2 percent in the past year and the state economy grew by about 2 percent, she said.

With winter now in the rear view mirror, Suljic said the economy is on track for a strong hiring surge in June as the agricultural industry ramps up for early harvests, such as cherries.

Even in February, construction remained a key driver for the Tri-Cities, with 9,400 employees, up 8 percent from a year ago.

Retail employed 13,300 people, down 200 from a year earlier. Leisure and hospitality employed 11,700 people, up 4.4 percent.

Administrative and support services, a category that broadly covers Hanford contractors, employed 11,700 people, up 9 percent.

Officially, there were 143,367 people in the Tri-City labor force. Of those, 132,601 were employed and 10,766 were unemployed for an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

One year prior, there were 136,257 people in the labor force, with 126,542 holding jobs and 9,715 looking for work, or 7.1 percent.

Elsewhere: Washington state, 5.2 percent; Bellingham, 5.9 percent; Clark County/Vancouver, 5.1 percent; Longview, 6.6 percent; Seattle, 3.6 percent; Spokane, 6.3 percent; Spokane Valley, 6.5 percent; Walla Walla, 6.1 percent; Wenatchee, 7.1 percent; and Yakima, 9.8 percent.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.

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