February continues Tri-City job gains
The Tri-Cities beat the norm during February, adding more jobs during a time when employment typically drops.
The mild winter helped the area see continued job gains, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.
That helped make February the 23rd month of year-over-year job growth for the Tri-Cities, according to Employment Security Department data released Tuesday.
The mild winter allowed farmers to get an earlier start on tasks such as pruning, she said.
It also meant early hiring for leisure and hospitality businesses because more people tend to travel when snow is absent from the roadways.
Nonfarm jobs reached 104,000 last month, up by 300 jobs from January and 3,300 jobs from the same month last year.
Areas that saw continued year-over-year job gains included manufacturing, construction, local and state government, leisure and hospitality, health care, education and professional business services, which includes Hanford jobs.
Overall, about 115,400 Tri-Citians were employed during February, up by about 3,600 people from the same month last year.
Still, the Tri-Cities remained above the state’s average unemployment rate of 6.8 percent.
Benton County’s February unemployment rate was 8.6 percent, while Franklin County’s was 10.8 percent.
Franklin County’s unemployment rate was in the double digits mostly because of the seasonal nature of the county’s workforce, Suljic said.
But unemployment had dropped from January’s rate of 11.7 percent, and was lower than the 11.4 percent unemployment seen during the same month last year.
More workers joined the labor force in February, and they and some of the Tri-Citians who were out of work and actively job hunting successfully found new jobs, Suljic said.
About 11,800 Tri-Citians were unemployed last month, down by about 600 job hunters from the same time last year.
Some continued local government gains are expected because local law enforcement agencies are staffing up thanks to the voter-approved public safety sales tax.
On Tuesday, the Kennewick Police Department tested more than 40 candidates for the first four entry-level police officer positions funded by the new sales tax.
The sales tax will help add about 29 police officers and deputies in Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Prosser and Benton County, as well as three firefighters in Kennewick.
Kennewick is phasing in its officers, hiring four a year for the next three years.
All 12 officers will be patrol positions.
February unemployment rates for area counties: Adams County, 11.4 percent; Columbia County, 8.8 percent; Grant County, 10.5 percent; Walla Walla County, 7.5 percent; and Yakima County, 11.3 percent.
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