The Tri-City unemployment rate rose to 6.6 percent in July, a 5 percent jump in just a month as local and state government shed 800 jobs.
But summertime unemployment numbers can be deceiving.
Local government employment, typically flags in the summer when school is out and educators are technically not working.
The temporary loss of education jobs is typically offset by gains in agriculture-related employment, including food manufacturing, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department.
Beneath the monthly numbers is the story of the Mid-Columbia’s growing economy. The civilian labor force expanded at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent.
It’s the 40th straight month of growth for the region’s economy.
“It’s getting old to even mention it,” said Suljic.
Employment department figures released Tuesday show the civilian labor force hit 137,104 people, up about 4,500 from a year ago. The economy added nearly 2,000 jobs over the same period.
“It’s a very good sign. It’s good sustainable growth for us,” Suljic said.
It’s a very good sign. It’s good, sustainable growth for us
Ajsa Suljic, state Employment Security Department
For long-term growth, government, health care, hospitality and construction continue to dominate the Tri-City labor story.
The government sector grew by about 500 jobs. Most of those are in education and while the Richland and Kennewick school districts have grown, Suljic said the Pasco School District is driving education hiring thanks to its growth and new schools.
Construction has added 700 jobs in the past year, driven by a boom in both residential and commercial construction. The leisure and hospitality industry, including restaurants and food service, added 600 positions.
Manufacturing is a key sector, but the record is uneven.
The sector added 500 jobs between June and July as food manufacturing ramped up with the growing season.
But it dropped 400 jobs compared with a year ago, caused in part by the shutdown of the massive CRF Frozen Foods plant in Pasco over a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak tied to the plant.
The recall of 358 frozen fruit and vegetable products produced by CRF resulted in layoffs of more than 300 workers. The plant has not yet reopened.