County's unemployment rate drops to 8.4 percent

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Walla Walla County's unemployment rate dropped in February to 8.4 percent, down from January's 8.7 percent and the 9.1 percent of a year ago, labor officials announced.

The state's unemployment rate of 9.8 percent is following the trend and has dropped more than a percentage point from last year at this time.

The seasonal drop in jobs at the start of the year is expected to improve with March and April numbers, said regional labor economist Arum Kone.

He said Walla Walla County has increased its number of nonfarm jobs by about 200 in the past year. "It's not a lot of gain, but not a bad number," the economist said.

"But it's not a sign everything is great. We're essentially growing at one percent."

The fact that jobs are growing at about the same rate as the population is good, Kone noted, "but people aren't moving here because of unfilled jobs."

The nation's economic recovery has been uneven, he pointed out, adding that "there are not a lot of areas nationwide or statewide seeing a lot of job growth."

The strongest growth in local jobs is seen in the service-provider sector, such as wholesale trade, leisure and hospitality jobs and government jobs mostly associated with educational services, according to the data released by Washington state Employment Security Department.

Manufacturing jobs are making the slowest gain, and the construction business is not showing a decline at this point, Kone said.

"It's certainly not bad news. We've been this way for the past couple of months. One month doesn't make the trend ¬?-- we've been generally going in this direction."

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