Walla Walla County jobless rate on downward swing

The county's rate stands at 8.4 percent, down from 9.1 percent last year and below the statewide rate.

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WALLA WALLA -- The county and state are seeing slightly better numbers in employment rates, state employment security officials said this morning.

Walla Walla County's unemployment rate is at 8.4 percent, down from 8.7 percent in January and the 9.1 percent of a year ago, said Arum Kone, regional labor economist.

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, he added.

Walla Walla's unemployment rate has consistently stated under the state and federal average, Kone pointed out. As a community with a seasonal work component, it's normal to see a downturn in January begin to swing up again in March and April. "It's a great consistency, every year."

In non-agriculture work, Walla Walla County has seen an increase of about 200 jobs 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."

He is also hearing from business owners that they are starting to look for more employees, he said. "Last year they were not as eager to hire people."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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