Business

Jobs decline in Tri-Cities is seasonal

The Tri-Cities lost 1,000 nonfarm jobs in December, the Washington Employment Security Department reported Wednesday.

The majority of losses were in construction, food processing, and the restaurant business and state government sectors, bringing down the number of total nonfarm jobs from 98,000 in November to 97,000 in December, said Dean Schau, regional labor economist. It's a seasonal decline, he said.

But the yearly trend shows job growth, he said. That's not something many communities can lay claim to, he said. "The Tri-Cities leads the state in percentage growth with an additional 3,400 jobs from December of 2008 to December of 2009, a gain of 3.6 percent."

Administrative and waste services sectors added 2,100 jobs, largely at Hanford; health services provided about additional 700 jobs; and the rest came from financial services, government, and the trade, transportation and warehousing sector, Schau said.

Retails jobs remained flat over the year, but this sector gained 400 jobs during the holiday shopping season in December, he said. The half-completed Hanford vitrification plant, which is being built to turn radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal, added 72 jobs last month to bring the total number of jobs at the plant to 3,241 jobs last month.

Also, the local unemployment rate increased from 7.2 percent in November to 8.1 percent in December, while the labor force declined from 128,180 to 127,050 in the same period.

This is the worst recession since the Great Depression and any job data has to be seen in relation to that, Schau said.

The Tri-Cities is still holding its own, he said, adding he hopes the community is able to maintain the job growth momentum. "I'm always worried about the possibility of job losses."

Last year, about 14,100 unemployed workers in Benton and Franklin counties collected more than $82 million in unemployment benefits, according to a recent state report. The state paid more than $3.9 billion of those benefits.

Farm employment declined from 9,100 in November to 7,500 in December. In the coming months, agriculture and food processing industry will begin to increase the pace of hiring, Schau said.

Year over year, Washington had 106,200 fewer nonfarm jobs last month than in December 2008, a 3.6 percent decrease. Nationally, employment declined by 3.1 percent over the past year. The state unemployment rate increased to an estimated 9.5 percent in December, up from a revised rate of 9 percent in November.

But Dave Wallace, acting chief economist at the Washington Employment Security Department, said the pace of job loss in the state has slowed down. Washington lost an estimated 23,700 nonfarm jobs in the last six months of 2009, compared with a loss of more than 80,000 nonfarm jobs in the first six months of the year.

Unemployment rates, not seasonally adjusted, as reported in other metropolitan areas around the state were: Bellingham, 8.3 percent; Bremerton, 7.5; Longview, 13.1; Mount Vernon-Anacortes, 10.7; Olympia, 7.6; Spokane, 9.3; Tacoma, 9.5; Wenatchee, 9.3; and Yakima, 10.9.

These labor market areas also were reported: Aberdeen, 13.4 percent; Centralia, 14.0; Ellensburg, 9.3; Moses Lake, 12.4; Oak Harbor, 8.8; Port Angeles, 10.1; Pullman, 4.6; Shelton, 10.6; and Walla Walla, 6.7.

Unemployment rates in other counties were: Adams, 11.6 percent; Asotin, 7.1; Chelan, 9.4; Clark, 14.3; Columbia, 10.8; Douglas, 9.2; Ferry, 14.1; Garfield, 9.0; Jefferson, 8.8; King, 8.5; Klickitat, 10.4; Lincoln, 8.8; Okanogan, 12.4; Pacific, 12.0; Pend Oreille, 14.0; San Juan, 7.4; Skamania, 12.8; Snohomish, 10.3; Stevens, 13.4; and Wahkiakum, 14.2.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com

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