Walla Walla unemployment jumps up

The area's rate is still below the level for the state, but climbed more sharply than usual in December.

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Walla Walla's unemployment rate took a larger-than-usual seasonal leap to 6.7 percent in December, according to figures released this morning from the state Employment Security Department.

Last month's jobless rate rose from 6.1 percent in November, and from 5.8 percent from December 2008. The upward climb is not unusual during the winter months, said Regional Labor Economist Arum Kone. But in this case the increase is greater than a typical November-to-December jump, he said.

"This indicates more job loss activity than just the normal seasonal changes in employment which occurs during slower winter months," Kone said via e-mail this morning.

The upward trend is likely to continue into January after a massive layoff at Sykes Enterprises Inc.'s Milton-Freewater call center. More than 300 people were expected to be laid off with the expiration of client contracts last week. Kone said about half the employees at the business come from Walla Walla.

The local employment picture fared better than the state average. Washington's unemployment rate reached 9.5 percent in December. That's an increase from the previous month of a half a percentage point.

According to the Employment Security Department the state has lost more than 106,000 jobs -- or 3.6 percent -- since December 2008. Nationally employment dropped by 3.1 percent during the same time.

Officials say despite the increase in unemployment, monthly job losses are on the decline. Washington lost an estimated 23,700 jobs in the last six months of 2009, compared to more than 80,000 job losses in the first six months of the year.

"Employment is a lagging economic indicator, so coming out of a recession, it is typical for jobs to be the last thing to return," said Dave Wallace, Employment Security's chief economist, in today's announcement. "But overall, job losses are clearly trending downward, and that's a positive sign."

Walla Walla County's nonfarm employment managed to remain positive over the year with an increase of 20 jobs or .1 percent. Kone said the source of the declining employment is in the goods producing sector. The service producing sector, which makes up more than 80 percent of total employment, gained 130 jobs over the year. That increase includes jobs in professional and business services, retail, wholesale, health care and social assistance and federal government.

Over the month, Kone said total nonfarm employment declined by 1 percent, or about 240 jobs. Though much of this is typical for the season, some layoffs are occurring in sectors not part of the seasonal adjustment, he said.

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