Walla Walla County jobless rate falls slightly

The county's rate ticked down to 8.3 percent from 8.4 percent the previous month.

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Walla Walla County's unemployment rate took a seasonal turn for the better in March.

The unemployment rate for the month was 8.3 percent, a slight drop from February's 8.4 percent rate and down from 8.8 percent during the same period a year ago, according to numbers from the Employment Security Department.

A lower jobless rate is typical this time of year as the community emerges from what tend to be the two highest months of unemployment, said Walla Walla regional labor economist Arum Kone. However, March's lower rate also reflects a not-so-positive trend: fewer workers in the labor force.

"The unemployment rate, while lower, is reflected by a decrease in the labor force," Kone said. "(Some people) are not going back to work so they're not joining the labor force. They're either discouraged and not looking for work or have moved to look for work elsewhere."

The trend was detected in surveys of unemployed workers, Kone said. It's also consistent with other communities across the state.

Notwithstanding the decline in the labor force, unemployment has held overall, which is good news, Kone said. Nonfarm employment has increased by about 40 jobs, or .2 percent.

Moreover the declines that had been taking place in manufacturing and construction have eased. Weaknesses anticipated in the government sector have not played out, and private professional business services have been adding jobs, Kone said.

"It's kind of a mixed bag," he said. "It's positive signs mixed with negative and that's been the trend for about six months. We're not in decline like we were. But there's also not overwhelming evidence that the economy is adding jobs."

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

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