Harvest cuts into jobless figures

The local rate fell to 6.9 percent, down from June but up a hair from July 2010.

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The summer harvest season took a slice out of unemployment in July, according to the latest figures from the state Employment Security Department.

Walla Walla County's jobless rate dropped to 6.9 percent in July. That's down from June's 7.3 percent unemployment rate and up just slightly from 6.8 percent during the same month in 2010.

Washington state's unemployment rate held at 9.3 percent in July, matching its June number despite the addition of 5,700 jobs in its 11th straight month of growth.

Despite Walla Walla's lower number, the community has not seen the private-sector job growth the rest of the state has experienced.

"They've added private employment," said regional labor economist Arum Kone. "We're just not seeing that trend migrate over to Eastern Washington, or Walla Walla."

Kone said the three sectors that have served as pillars of local employment through the economic downfall -- health care, government and education -- have started to show losses.

"All three of them are negative right now, indicating that we're losing employment," he said. Manufacturing, on the other hand, has shown signs of growth.

Kone said Walla Walla's outlook is a mixed bag. The community continues to post enviable numbers compared to the state and nation. However, it isn't adding jobs.

Nonfarm employment is down 3.1 percent, or 770 jobs, for the year, he said. That includes 660 private jobs and 110 government positions.

He said the numbers reflect the ongoing pattern that the community is slow to be affected by national and state economic trends and also slower to recover.

"We're really following that pattern very clearly," he said.

Garfield County posted a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in July. Columbia County's unemployment last month was 10.1 percent.

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

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