Jobless rate falls, as do jobs

The unemployment rate stands at 8 percent for Walla Walla County.

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Walla Walla County's unemployment rate decreased in March, but so did the number of nonfarm jobs in the community, according to figures released Tuesday from the Employment Security Department.

March's unemployment rate fell to 8 percent, from 8.7 percent in February, the figures showed. Though the two months historically tend to be the lowest months for employment throughout the year, the decline in nonfarm jobs in not typical, said regional labor economist Arum Kone.

Whether the loss of 30 nonfarm jobs -- a decline of .1 percent -- between February and March is a sign of things to come is not yet clear.

"It just looks at this point that the typical increase coming into the spring isn't as strong as it usually is and that's a little bit worrisome," Kone said. "The challenge is to know whether it's a trend or not."

The next couple of months will show whether this is a one-month drop or a more general weakness in the local economy, he said.

Walla Walla County's unemployment rate in March 2009 was 7.4 percent.

Across the state, Washington's March unemployment rate was 9.9 percent, down from 10.4 percent in February but up from 9.2 percent in March 2009. The unemployment rate for the U.S. was 10.2 percent in March, a dip from 10.4 percent in February. It was 9 percent in March last year, but 5.2 percent during the same period 2008.

Washington's March numbers marked the second time in three months the state has made gains after 13 months of job losses.

"This recovery is going to take time, but the latest job gains are another positive indicator that we're on the right track," said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee in the announcement.

Walla Walla continued to see employment reductions in construction and manufacturing, Kone said.

Nonfarm employment for Walla Walla County has dropped by 160 jobs or .7 percent over the year, he said. Sectors that have remained strong include retail, leisure and hospitality and federal government.

Over the year, professional and business services declined 16.5 percent.

Kone said local taxable retail sales for the fourth quarter of 2009 were $ 73.8 million. Adjusted for inflation the total sales were below the $76.4 million in the fourth quarter from the previous year and well below the $82.2 million in total sales for the same period in 2007.

The 3.9 percent drop from the fourth quarter of 2008 to last year's were largely in electronics, appliances, jewelry and building material. He said motor vehicle sales, e-commerce, computers and clothing all increased over the year.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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