The Tri-Cities just can’t stop hitting economic milestones.
September was the region’s 30th straight month of year-over-year job growth, according to data from the state’s Employment Security Department. Multiple industries, from construction and manufacturing to retail and health care, contributed to the growing number of positions. The region’s labor force has been progressively shrinking, making it easier for those looking for work to get hired.
All contributed to the Tri-Cities’ declining unemployment rate, which hit 5.4 percent in September, the first time it’s been below 6 percent since November 2008.
5.5 percent Benton County jobless rate
5.3 percent Franklin County jobless rate
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“This year has been a really good year,” said regional economist Ajsa Suljic.
The number of unemployed people is expected to tick upward over the next three months as seasonal jobs wrap up for the winter. But those workers are either finding other employment or leaving the area and the gains made throughout the local economy means growth should continue next year, officials said.
The only sectors to lose jobs overall since September 2014 were government, financial services and professional and business services positions typically associated with the Hanford site. They combined for a loss of about 600 jobs over the past year.
This year has been a really good year.
But construction has 500 more positions than it did last September. So do the leisure and hospitality industry and employers in educational and health services. Manufacturing has 300 more jobs compared to last year while the transportation and utility fields have nearly 1,000 more workers and retail has added 600.
“Even in (agriculture) and manufacturing there are still positions out there,” Suljic said.
The labor force, which was above 130,000 in August, lost about 2,000 people in September. At the same time, the region saw claims for unemployment benefits drop by 800 during that time span. The Tri-Cities unemployment rate declined more than half a percentage point in September from 6 percent in August.
The Tri-Cities’ unemployment rate is still higher than the state average of 4.8 percent. Individually, Benton County’s rate is at 5.5 percent while Franklin County is at 5.3 percent. Walla Walla County has a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, Grant County 5 percent and Yakima County 5.3 percent.
Suljic said the region’s unemployment could get as high as 7 percent by December. The region is also expected to see a slight decline in holiday retail hiring compared to past years, based on recent estimates released by state economists. But that decline is largely pegged to the fact more retail workers are employed than in the past, decreasing the need for temporary help.