Washington Employment Security Department

The state Employment Security Department says that Washingtonians collecting unemployment benefits will again be required to actively search for work to keep those benefits, starting July 4. 

The latest local and state employment figures are encouraging — downright cheery, in fact.

Yakima’s September unemployment rate, according to the state Employment Security Department, was down to just 3.9%. That’s the lowest rate the city’s seen since the state began keeping track in 1990. Countywide, the figure was 4%.

Those numbers translate into more workers, more jobs. Nearly 4,000 more people were in the local labor force in September 2021 compared with September 2020.

And while Yakima Valley’s employment has been cyclical for years — much of our economy is still based on agriculture, which needs more workers during growing seasons, fewer after the harvests — this job growth isn’t particularly seasonal. The county has gained about 2,400 non-farm jobs, year over year, according to Don Meseck, a regional labor economist with the state. That’s a 2.9% increase.

It’s also good to look at the size of the labor force. Yakima County’s civilian labor force declined by -0.7% from 2019 to 2020, from 131,779 to 130,867 people.

Following 12 months of year-over-year declines, a turn-around occurred between June and September 2021, Meseck reports. This September 138,775 residents were in the labor force versus 134,788 in September 2020.

That labor force expansion, coupled with fewer people without jobs, led to our low jobless numbers.

The numbers seem striking to us for several reasons.

  • They’re not just reflective of a bounce-back from 2020’s devastating pandemic-related slowdown. These numbers are perhaps the strongest we’ve recorded in more than three decades. They show actual job growth, not mere recovery.
  • They defy the gloomy predictions that raising the state’s minimum wage would bankrupt businesses, necessitate layoffs and put consumer prices out of reach. According to these latest statistics, we now have more jobs, and most of them offer better pay.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most impressively, this growth has come even as local businesses have endured costly and painful challenges — from masking and vaccination mandates to bans on plastic bags.

Is the economy perfect now? Of course not. Not by a long shot.

Among other things, the Valley’s housing shortage is making it tougher to live here. Housing prices are skyrocketing, which not only puts acquisition out of reach for some buyers and renters, it poses the risk of pricing some people out of homes they’ve lived in for years.

Nonetheless, this week’s employment news is a welcome sign that we’re on a good path at the moment.

We live in an area that has a lot to offer in terms of livability and employment opportunities, and it has impressive potential.

Those are encouraging thoughts to contemplate as we head into the weekend. Downright cheery, in fact.