Walla Walla jobless rate spells trouble

Walla Walla's unemployment picture suggests hard times could be in store come fall.

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WALLA WALLA -- A weaker unemployment rate posted for Walla Walla in June could be a forecast for even tougher times this fall, a regional labor economist said Tuesday.

Unemployment in Walla Walla County for the month was 7.2 percent, down from May's 7.4 percent but up from 6.9 percent posted during the same month a year ago, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Regional labor economist Arum Kone said a softening government sector and weakness in private employment have made for an ominous combination.

The number of jobs from a year ago decreased by 450, Kone said. Those were led by reductions in private educational services, government, construction, health care and leisure and hospitality. The latter, he said, may be an anomaly. Sectors that gained jobs were retail and wholesale trade, manufacturing and state and government educational services.

The number of jobs that decreased from May to June was 640, he continued. Though a drop between the two months is typical from seasonal factors, he said "this year's decline is larger than normal." Last year's decrease during the same period was about half that size, Kone said.

He said private employment and goods-producing sectors showed gains in June from May.

Walla Walla's unemployment rate was still relatively low compared to other counties in the state. But Kone said this is a time of year when the rate is typically lower. He said the number of unemployed residents is about equal to the number from last year, but the number of employed residents has fallen.

That happens when unemployed residents are either no longer receiving unemployment benefits or, for whatever reason, have stopped looking for work.

Kone said there has been a "seismic shift" in nationwide employment demographics. He said unemployment on a national scale for males 16-19 years old has climbed to 45 percent. That rate is usually under 20 percent, he said. The percentage of females of the same age unemployed is closer to 20 percent, he said.

He said in 1970 the percent of males 16-65 who were unemployed was 7. Today it's more like 20 percent, Kone said.

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

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