Walla Walla County sheds 400 jobs in 2010

On the plus side, the county continues to enjoy a lower jobless rate than much of the state.

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Walla Walla County ended 2010 with more than 400 fewer jobs in the marketplace.

Though still boasting one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, Walla Walla is a picture of contrast when it comes to job opportunities compared to other Washington counties, said Regional Labor Economist Arum Kone.

He said ongoing reductions by private companies, as well as government operations, over the last year has led not only to a an increase in unemployed residents, but also a drop in potential jobs.

"Really there hasn't been any watershed or major event at any employer. It's been a trickle here and there," Kone said. "On the other side: We're not seeing a lot of companies hiring people."

Kone said the job losses have not been significant in number. However, he said Walla Walla is moving in a slightly different direction than other parts of the state, where unemployment numbers are still high but decreasing and jobs are being created.

Washington added about 8,000 jobs in 2010, according to numbers released this week from the state Employment Security Department.

That growth was characterized as modest in a piece this week by The Associated Press when compared with a labor force of more than 3.5 million. However, it's a huge climb compared to the nearly 134,000 jobs lost in 2009.

"This is the first month (since Sept. 2008) we've been able to see any kind of solid year-over-year growth," said Dave Wallace, chief economist for the state Employment Security Department. "That in itself is a positive sign."

For December, Washington state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate grew slightly to 9.3 percent -- an uptick from the 9.2 percent reported in November and a year earlier. The state added about 2,100 jobs last month.

The national unemployment rate for December was 9.4 percent.

Walla Walla County's December unemployment climbed to 7.6 percent from a revised 6.7 percent in November. Last month's number also reflected an increase from December 2009, when unemployment was 7.1 percent.

Kone said nonfarm employment numbers were soft with a decline of 2.6 percent. Most of those jobs were in private educational services and reflect a typical drop for the season.

Over the year, employment losses were largely in goods producing -- manufacturing and construction -- as well as retail.

He said the health-care sector continues to add employment. Government jobs also reflected year-over-year growth, without the recent layoffs by the city of Walla Walla yet showing.

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

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