There were 5,300 more people working nonfarm jobs in October in Benton and Franklin counties this year than a year ago, though farm employment dipped by 285 jobs.
The State Employment Security Department said Wednesday that the unemployment rate for October eased to 5.8 percent in the Tri-Cities, down from 6.1 percent in September.
Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties, attributed the decline in the unemployment rate mainly to people dropping out of the work force, such as students leaving seasonal jobs and returning to school or workers simply choosing not to work.
While the growth of 5,300 nonfarm jobs over the year gave the Tri-Cities one of the strongest job growth rates in the state, Suljic said that growth was mainly due to federal stimulus jobs created by Hanford cleanup work and job growth is slowing seasonally.
"Nonfarm employment growth was very weak over the month, with only a 600-job increase," she said. "This was mainly in public education, with little change in both the private goods producing and private service providing industries."
For the next couple of months, the Tri-City area is expected to follow a seasonal pattern as agricultural work winds down. On the other hand, retail trade employment is gearing up for the holiday season shopping, and Suljic estimates stores will hire 300 to 400 workers.
"That's average for our area but still better than in the past three years," she said. "Holiday hirings in 2008-2009 were very stagnant and conservative. It's now getting better."
Suljic said Columbia Basin College recently held a job fair, and "I was able to interview the retailers and found they were hiring temporary/seasonal workers. But that's normal for retail where workers are rarely full-time."
Suljic said 52 percent of total employment in the Benton-Franklin region is shared almost equally by five top industries. They are:
-- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
-- Professional, scientific, and technical services.
-- Retail trade.
-- Health care and social assistance.
-- Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services.
"Employment and wages in these five industries are very different," Suljic said "However, this brings in economic diversity, which helps balance the local economy through both ups and downs."
Suljic said she expects Hanford employment to decline toward the end of 2011 as federal stimulus money dries up and contractors complete cleanup projects at the site.
Overall, the State Employment Security Department predicts the state economy will grow at a slower rate over the next year.
Washington's unemployment rate remained at 9.1 percent in October as the state rode five straight months of private-sector job growth, department officials reported Wednesday.
October's statewide job count was about 8,500 lower than a year earlier, according to The Associated Press.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, about 323,500 people were unemployed and looking for work last month, the state reported, and more than 223,000 people were getting unemployment benefits.
October's statewide jobless rate matched the revised 9.1 percent reported for September. It also was about even with the 9.2 percent reported a year ago. October's national unemployment rate was 9.6 percent.
The unemployment rate for Benton County was 5.8 percent and Franklin County was 5.9 percent. In Yakima county the rate was 6.8 percent; in Grant it was 7.5 percent; in Walla Walla it was 6 percent; and in Adams county it was 6.6 percent.