Harvest lowers WW County unemployment

But jobs in key local, non-seasonal private and government sectors are starting to see losses.

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The summer harvest season cut a swath in unemployment in July, according to the latest figures from the state Employment Security Department.

Walla Walla County's jobless rate dropped to 6.9 percent in July. That's down from June's 7.3 percent unemployment rate and up just slightly from 6.8 percent during the same month in 2010.

Washington state's unemployment rate held at 9.3 percent in July, matching its June number despite the addition of 5,700 jobs in its 11th straight month of growth.

Despite Walla Walla's lower number, the community has not seen the private-sector job growth the rest of the state has experienced.

"They've added private employment," said regional labor economist Arum Kone. "We're just not seeing that trend migrate over to Eastern Washington, or Walla Walla."

Kone said the three sectors that have served as pillars of local employment through the economic downfall -- health care, government and education -- have started to show losses.

"All three of them are negative right now, indicating that we're losing employment," he said. Manufacturing, on the other hand, has shown signs of growth.

Kone said Walla Walla's outlook is a mixed bag. The community continues to post enviable numbers compared to the state and nation. However, it isn't adding jobs.

Nonfarm employment is down 3.1 percent, or 770 jobs, for the year, he said. That includes 660 private jobs and 110 government positions.

He said the numbers reflect the ongoing pattern that the community is slow to be affected by national and state economic trends and also slower to recover.

"We're really following that pattern very clearly," he said.

Garfield County posted a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in July. Columbia County's unemployment last month was 10.1 percent.

Job vacancies in Washington state have reached their highest level in three years.

A little more than 60,000 vacant jobs were available in April statewide. That number represents a 55 percent increase from the same period in 2010. It's nearly double the number from spring 2009.

Those with skills in food preparation and serving; computer and mathematical positions; health care; and office and administrative support may have the best luck at finding work because those fields have shown the greatest growth, the report shows. Geographically, it also helps if you live in the central Puget Sound area. About 62 percent of the job vacancies are in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

State officials say the number is an encouraging sign of economic recovery.

The last time job vacancies were higher was in spring 2008, where nearly 75,000 positions were available.

"In order for unemployment to come down, we need more jobs and more hiring," Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said in a prepared statement. "This survey shows that employment conditions are gradually improving."

The breakdown of job vacancies by county or region was not included in the announcement.

According to the report, the number of unemployed people seeking work dropped from a peak of about 337,000 in spring 2010 to about 312,000 last spring. The total labor force -- including employed workers as well as unemployed workers actively seeking jobs -- also decreased by nearly 52,000 people.

A few other statewide highlights in the Employment Security Department report:

* About half of the vacancies were at companies with fewer than 50 employees.

* Of the job vacancies reported, 14.7 percent -- or 8,834 -- were newly created positions, mostly at companies with fewer than 20 employees.

* Over the year, vacancies grew in all major industry groups except in information and utilities. Healthcare and social assistance (10,131), retail-trade (9,502) and accommodations and food services (7,728) had the most vacancies.

* About 55 percent of open jobs required a high school diploma or had no educational requirement. The percentage of vacancies required advanced education tends to drop in the spring as seasonal employment increases.

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