Tri-City jobs up slightly over year

The Tri-Cities gained about 3,100 non-farm jobs over the past year, but the national economic slowdown is beginning to take a toll as 800 non-farm jobs were lost last month, the State Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Annual data shows the Tri-Cities has weathered the economic storm better than much of the state, said Dean Schau, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. he said the unemployment rate for Benton and Franklin counties in November was 6.1 percent, compared with the state’s overall rate of 6.4 percent.

Schau said area job gains came in the professional and business services sector; the retail, leisure and hospitality industries, and at school districts. But he said job growth has slowed and the number of unemployment insurance claims has risen significantly. Most of that is from losses in seasonal employment in agriculture and construction, he said.

There’s potential for further job losses, Schau said, but the food production, power generation industry and medical equipment manufacturing sector will help stabilize the area economy, “These are things people are gonna have to buy,” he said. Of the non-farm jobs lost last month, 600 were in the construction sector, which had supported 7,000 workers in October. Previously planned public and private capital projects have been completed and construction projects as there are fewer jobs to be had.

Manufacturing jobs also were down over the month by 500 as food processors slowed production in the fourth quarter. “The third quarter has the highest employment for the industry as it has to digest the late-season wine, potato and apple harvests,” Schau said. Like construction, food manufacturing had its best year in 2007, and during the first two quarters of 2008 it was up 5.2 percent over the same time the previous year, he said.

Meanwhile, retail trade saw an increase of 400 seasonal jobs in November, bringing the total jobs there to 12,000, up 200 from November 2007. Jobs in the financial services sector and wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing remained mostly flat. About 100 positions were added in the food services industry in November, and the sector gained about 400 jobs over the year.

Although the number of workers in the Tri-Cities labor force declined from 126,470 in October to 124,220 in November, that still was up by 4,450 workers compared with November 2007, Schau said. Candice Bluechel, business services outreach manager at WorkSource Columbia Basin, said the loss of 3,100 agricultural jobs in November led to a rush of job seekers at WorkSource.

There are about 65 job openings listed currently at WorkSource, Bluechel said. In Washington, the services sector jobs that comprise about 68 percent of all state jobs have been a saving grace, said Mary Ayala, chief economist for the state Employment Security Department. Those higher paying jobs haven’t been caught in the cyclical downward trend, she said.

But Ayala said an estimated 222,551 people are looking for work in the state and about 22,700 non-agricultural jobs were lost in November. “Just as we saw with the 2002 recession, Washington’s economy held up longer than most of the nation, but we’re quickly catching up now,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee.

Total non-agricultural jobs in Washington in November were down 22,400 over the same time in 2007, a 0.8 percent decrease. nationally, jobs declined by 1.4 percent over the past year. 

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