Jobless rate falls in Walla Walla County

But job creation also slipped, a worrisome sign for the local economy.

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WALLA WALLA -- The unemployment rate for Walla Walla County dropped last month, but job creation went soft, too, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

The jobless rate fell to 6.7 percent in June from a revised 7.5 percent in May. This is up from 6.3 percent in June 2009.

Across Washington, unemployment decreased to 8.9 percent in the third straight month-over-month decline. But the private sector job growth that's taking place in the state overall is not happening in Walla Walla, said Regional Labor Economist Arum Kone.

Locally, the labor force grew slightly at .5 percent while employment grew at only .1 percent since last year, Kone said. He said the figures likely reflect small-scale layoffs that have taken place slowly in the community over time.

Meanwhile job creation by private companies has slowed down, Kone said. January and April saw some job creation -- typically a sign of economic recovery -- but Kone said that's since taken a turn.

"It's a little bit worrisome," he said.

He said nonfarm employment decreased over the year by 2.4 percent. The decline includes 170 jobs in mining, logging and construction; 70 jobs in retail; 100 jobs in professional and business services; 30 jobs in federal government; and 320 jobs in state and local government.

The government figures were affected by temporary Census Bureau workers, whose terms had come to an end. Most of it, however, is related to education and the agency's change in how it times employment for that sector, Kone said.

At the state level, the June's rate shows a turnaround from the first six months of the year, when Washington lost almost 90,000 jobs.

"It certainly speaks to some recovery, maybe not what we hoped it would be, but certainly far, far better than we were a year ago," said Dave Wallace, chief economist at the Employment Security Department.

June's jobless rate dropped 0.3 percentage point from May's revised rate of 9.2 percent and is the lowest the state has seen since April 2009. It remains lower than the national rate, which was 9.5 percent for June.

Gov. Chris Gregoire called the news "a good sign for our economic recovery."

"That drop, coupled with the fact that private-sector hiring is increasing, should be encouraging for our work force," she said.

Washington had 17,000 fewer jobs last month than it did in June 2009.

The state added about 4,500 private-sector jobs last month but registered a net loss of 3,500 jobs because 8,000 government jobs were eliminated. About half of those jobs were temporary work for the U.S. Census.

In addition to government, other industries that lost jobs in June were: financial activities, down 500; wholesale trade, which lost 300; and transportation, warehousing and utilities, which shed 100.

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