Walla Walla County unemployment inches up

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Walla Walla County's unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in November, capped by the loss of about 140 manufacturing and construction jobs, labor officials said this morning.

The jobless rate jumped from 5.5 percent in October and 5.1 percent a year ago. That figure is down from Washington's overall rate of 9.2 percent, announced today by the Employment Security Department.

Walla Walla's unemployment is also growing at a slower pace than the state, which is 2.9 percent higher than a year ago. U.S. unemployment was 9.4 percent last month, also 2.9 percent higher than the year before.

Regional labor economist Arum Kone said this morning that nonfarm employment has continued to drop in Walla Walla County, though not as quickly as the rest of the state and nation. In addition to construction and manufacturing jobs, the service-providing sector also saw a decrease of about 20 jobs.

Kone said that sector comprises about 82 percent of the area's total nonfarm employment. It has been showing slight declines since August, he said.

He said several sectors have shown gains. Professional and business services have added about 60 jobs, while health care and social assistance grew by 40 jobs.

Kone said along with the unemployment rate itself, the amount of time people are spending unemployed has grown.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased to 397 individuals in November from 318 in November 2008. That's a nearly 25 percent jump, he said. "Surprisingly, at this level initial claims were less then they were in November 2004 and 2005," he wrote in an e-mail.

Continued claims for unemployment insurance rose to 790, 98 percent increase from last year, Kone said.

"This does indicate that the duration of unemployment has grown over the last year," he explained. "When individuals are becoming unemployed they are taking longer to become employed again."

Kone said exhausted claims for unemployment insurance were 58 for November compared to 16 for 2008. Exhausted claims, is a count of those exhausting their first claim of unemployment insurance of 26 weeks and does not indicate how many claimants have exhausted their extended claims for unemployment.

Although higher than Walla Walla's, Washington's unemployment rate appears to be holding steady. The 9.2 percent jobless rate last month was nearly the same as October's 9.3 percent rate.

State officials say more than 321,000 people were unemployed and looking for work last month.

Washington has lost more than 125,000 jobs since November 2008, a drop of 4.3 percent. National employment has declined by 3.5 percent over the past year.

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