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County unemployment rate up in February

After the January 2012 unemployment rate for Yakima County dropped compared to the same month in 2011, February showed an opposite trend.

According to the latest county unemployment figures, the February 2012 unemployment rate here was 11.9 percent (not seasonally adjusted) compared to an 11.6 percent unemployment rate in February 2011.

In February 2012 there were 14,660 residents out of work versus 14,130 in February 2011.

"This 530-person over-the-year increase in the number of unemployed is a set-back for the local economy," said Don Meseck, a regional labor economist for the state's Employment Security Department.

Meseck said industries suffering job losses between February 2011 and February 2012 included agriculture, normally a stable source of employment. He notes during that time frame agricultural jobs in Klickitat and Yakima counties fell by more than 1,200.

"The lion's share of these job losses occurred on farms and orchards in Yakima County," Meseck said.

Between the Februarys of 2011 and 2012: decreases in agricultural employment, increases in the number of unemployment insurance claimants and rising numbers of unemployed residents all contributed to the three-tenths percentage point rise in Yakima County's unemployment rate.

Non-farm employment, by contrast, actually showed some gains last month, with a gain of 700 jobs from February 2011 to February 2012.

Retail trade businesses also fared well in February 2012. The number of jobs (full- and part-time) grew to 10,000; up from 9,800 in the same month one-year prior.

Other areas in Yakima County making job gains included health services, which saw employment rise to 13,200 in February 2012 from 12,900 in February 2011.

The health services industrial sector is comprised of four subsectors: ambulatory health care services, hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, and social assistance.

"It is true that there have been 'ups and downs" recently in this Yakima County industry, and it is unlikely that health services job growth will be as robust as it once was," Meseck observed. "Nevertheless, the February 2011 to February 2012 upturn is an indicator that, for the foreseeable future, heath services employment will likely grow modestly. Why? Baby boomers are aging and retirees are settling in Yakima County. Both of these groups will require additional medical services in the upcoming years."

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