Walla Walla jobless rate slides down

But the apparent good news has more to do with a shrinking workforce than job growth, an official says.

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Walla Walla's unemployment rate fell in April, but was more a reflection of a decline in the workforce than growth in the job market, officials say.

The unemployment rate for Walla Walla County last month was 7.1 percent, a drop from 8.4 percent in March, when Walla Walla recorded one of its highest unemployment rates since the recession began. April's figure was also down from the same month a year ago when it was 7.6 percent, according to figures released Tuesday from the state Employment Security Department.

"The decreasing unemployment really has a lot more to do with the labor force shrinking. There aren't necessarily a lot of jobs being added," said Arum Kone, regional labor economist for the Walla Walla area.

He said fewer unemployed people, for whatever reason, are actively seeking work. That particular detail is gleaned from surveys of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits when data is compiled each month, Kone said.

Kone said about 190 jobs were added between March and April, but overall the number of jobs over the year is down. Kone said it's too early to tell where the decrease is coming from or if it's permanent.

He said there have been some weaknesses in two of the region's strongest sectors -- health care and leisure and hospitality. Again, he said it's too early to tell if those losses are a sign of things to come. "It's the first time that's shown up," he said. "I'd like to see it a few months in a row before I'd say it's a trend."

Manufacturing is rumored to be on the uptick, he said. And as the seasons change into the warmer growing months, he said agriculture will play a part in growing the employment rate.

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

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