Unemployment down, but local economy bears watching

"The unemployment rate in Yakima County is dropping, which is a good sign," says Don Meseck, a regional labor economist.

"But the economy is still pretty weak in Yakima County. The ag sector is boosting up the non-farm sector and that's really the bottom line."

Speaking by phone yesterday, Wednesday, from his Ellensburg office, Meseck said non-farm employment in Yakima County has dropped 900 jobs from July 2011 to July 2012.

Thanks to farm employment, though, Yakima County was able to overall gain a total of 100 jobs since June 2012 and 20 more jobs since July 2011.

In other words, Yakima County gained nearly 1,000 ag jobs over the past 12 months.

According to figures provided by Meseck, who works for the state's employment security department, the unemployment rate in Yakima County for July was 8.4 percent, down from 9.1 percent in June of this year and 8.5 percent in July 2011.

Some of the hardest hit sectors in Yakima County are local government, which shed 800 jobs since last month, and construction along with manufacturing, which combined to lose 400 jobs since July 2011.

That's not to say there aren't some signs of hope in non-farm employment.

Leisure and hospitality businesses picked up 300 jobs over July 2011, while health services saw an employment uptick of 100 positions over the same time period.

While expressing concern about Yakima County's economy with seven straight months of job losses in non-farm employment, Meseck does see a potential silver lining.

He notes real estate sales in Yakima County through the first seven months of this year are up 8.5 percent over the same time frame in 2011.

Further, the average home price is up in Yakima County 7.3 percent from last year, from $157,051 to $168,459.

Meseck says all of that could be a good sign for construction employment in Yakima County.

"An old adage usually applies here," he notes. "If they're not buying, they're not building."

Hence, Meseck concludes that since people are buying in Yakima County there is a good likelihood of future construction.


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