Tri-City area shows steady job gains

The latest tally of employment figures in the Mid-Columbia shows steady job gains for Benton and Franklin counties, in contrast to a swelling number of unemployment claims statewide.

State Employment Security Department officials report nearly 500,000 Washington workers have collected $4.7 billion in unemployment benefits so far this year.The department reported that was 17.5 percent more than the $4 billion paid last year in unemployment claims.

And that compares with $1.2 billion paid in claims in 2008 -- barely a fourth of this year's total.

Benton County has had 9,529 unemployment claims to date in 2010, while Franklin County's total for the year is 5,023, said Ajsa Suljic, a state regional economist based in the Tri-Cities.

Suljic said the two counties saw about $6.5 million paid in unemployment insurance for 6,325 claims last month. She did not have an amount for claim pay-outs in November 2009 for comparison.

But Suljic said first-time claims for unemployment insurance filed in the two counties in November were 10 percent fewer than those filed a year ago.

"That's a good sign," she said.

For the year so far, she said, Benton and Franklin counties have seen an average of 18 percent fewer claims filed for jobless insurance compared with the preceding 12 months.

The past year has seen steady improvement for employment in Benton and Franklin counties.

"The beginning of this year was not great, but it has been getting better throughout the year," Suljic said, noting the Tri-Cities has had a 4.7 percent increase in nonfarm employment since January.

Benton and Franklin counties' unemployment rate in November was 6.9 percent, Suljic said.

Across the state, the average length of time that jobless workers received unemployment payments has increased to 41 weeks as 2010 ends.

John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com