May unemployment rate holds steady

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Walla Walla County's May unemployment rate held at 7.2 percent, matching the April rate in a typical transition between the two spring months and, said regional labor economist Arum Kone.

The latest figure, coming in below the statewide unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, have not yet reflected the end of the school year or other seasonal factors. Those changes will likely show up in the June numbers, Kone said.

Walla Walla's rate was down from 9 percent in April and 9.4 percent for the same period a year ago. May unemployment was 11.1 percent in Columbia County and 6.3 percent in Garfield County.

Overall Walla Walla is down about 110 jobs from last year. Kone said that was "very little change for an economy of this size."

One area for the decrease is in the federal government sector, but where exactly that might be coming from was not exactly clear, he said. Job losses have tended to move throughout the Walla Walla Valley as more of a trickle than a watershed movement, he said.

Walla Walla has made strides in wholesale and retail trade and professional business services.

Kone said the community has weathered the recession much better than many others across the country and even in the state. However, job growth moves much more slowly here.

"We're just not really close to adding the number of jobs we need to get back," he said.

People filing for unemployment benefits in Washington after July 3, however, will receive increased benefits.

The state Employment Security Department said the minimum weekly benefit will go up $3 to $138 and the maximum will go up $13 to $583.

The benefits are calculated as a percentage of the average annual wage in the state. That went up about 2 percent last year to about $930 a week or more than $48,000 a year.

The department says the increase was not caused only by pay raises but also the elimination of lower-paying jobs.

The increase also means bumps in the unemployment taxes businesses pay and in worker's compensation benefits for people injured on the job.

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