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Growing labor force contributes to Walla Walla County's grim unemployment rate in April

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April was the country’s worst month for jobs since the Great Depression, but despite ominous numbers it wasn’t the worst April on record for Walla Walla County.

Seasonally adjusted jobless numbers for the U.S. were at 14.7% in April, according to the Washington state Employment Security Department. Washington had a 15.4% seasonally adjusted rate as of May 20.

County-by-county numbers from the department, updated May 26, showed Walla Walla County with an 11.1% unemployment rate and Columbia County at a 10.4% rate.

“There’s a lot of decrease in employment, of course,” regional economist Ajsa Suljic said. “But surprisingly, the labor force has increased in Walla Walla (County) at the same time, contributing to that increase in unemployment.”

The labor force grew from 29,844 in March of this year to 30,081 in April. Walla Walla County was home to 3,329 unemployed people in April, based on the department’s figures.

It doesn’t amount to the county’s worst of all time, and not even its worst in recent history. U.S. Department of Labor information dating back to 1990 shows that January 1992 had a 12.8% unemployment rate. It was, however, the worst April rate dating back to 1990.

Prior to April, the county’s highest unemployment rate came in January 2010 at 9.8%, just after the 2008 Recession.

Columbia County has a work force of 1,706 people and 178 unemployed, according to the department’s numbers.

Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson guessed that the numbers were lower in Columbia County because of a couple factors — essential agriculture jobs and government jobs.

“It’s not what you want in a diverse economy, but it helped us in this case,” Dickinson said of the two sectors that dominate the county.

Snohomish County had the worst unemployment rate in the state at 20.2% in April, with 91,383 people listed as unemployed that month.

Whitman County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 6.6% in April.

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Jedidiah Maynes can be reached at 509-526-8318 jedidiahmaynes@wwub.com.

Jedidiah Maynes is the managing editor of Walla Walla Lifestyles magazine. He also writes about business news in the Valley and covers a variety of others topics on occasion. He enjoys making music and puns.