Unemployment rate drops to 6.5

Economist predicts jobless claims to rise gradually as season changes

— Unemployment in Okanogan County dipped to 6.5 percent in July, but state and local officials expect that number to go back up as harvest season draws to a close.

“It’s always hard to predict, because Okanogan County is so heavily agricultural-based,” regional Labor Economist Don Meseck said of the winter shift in unemployment, which hit 12.5 percent in early 2013. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any change in that.”

The civilian labor force has also seen a drop, from 26,660 to 25,960 residents, as some discouraged workers take early retirement or stop job hunting.

However, he said, the non-farm labor market has been growing for the past year. Okanogan County is playing catch-up with the state, which has seen growth in the last 34 months.

“I think the local economy in Okanogan County is slowly improving,” he said. “There’s more good news than bad.”

The 6.5 percent unemployment rate is down from 6.8 percent recorded in July 2012, and this July was the 25th consecutive month of either decreases or no change in the rate.

But as unemployment starts its eventual rise, competition gets tougher, WorkSource Okanogan County Administrator Craig Carroll said.

“With a higher unemployment rate, more people are competing for the same jobs,” he said. “A higher percentage of our customers during the winter months are drawing unemployment than in the summer time. And that’s pretty consistent year over year.”

Meseck said jobs have gone up in manufacturing, wholesale trade, fresh fruit packing and construction, while retail is seeing a continued downturn.

WorkSource Okanogan County listed 172 jobs as of Monday afternoon, 45 of which were part time, at www.wa.gov/esd/okanogan.

Job listings are “mostly health-care related, and we also get quite a few agricultural job openings, at least throughout the summer and fall,” Carroll said.

“Other than that, not a lot in manufacturing as a rule, but we’ve got quite a few lately with the mill opening up.”

Omak Wood Products, which anticipates reopening the sawmill in early October, has been advertising for several positions, including a technician, a millwright and machinery operators.

Education workers are also in high demand locally, Carroll said. Other full-time openings were for an Okanogan County engineer and deputy prosecuting attorney, an auto mechanic, apple and pear pickers, a technician, a pharmacist and certified nursing assistants.

Carroll said WorkSource Okanogan County serves between 5,500 and 6,000 unique job seekers per year.

“We’re pretty busy,” he said. “Yeah, I’d say that’s quite a few people.”

WorkSource also extends help over the phone or online at www.wa.gov/esd/okanogan/

index.html, and in person throughout the county, from visiting employers and migrant farm workers to job fairs at schools.

“Last year we went to every school in the county, as well as Bridgeport and Grand Coulee Dam,” he said.

The WorkSource website offers resources for job seekers and employers alike. People can learn how to write resumes and cover letters and browse local job listings.

At the WorkSource campus, 126 S. Main St., staff members review job search logs so people can continue getting unemployment benefits, and provide computer classes and job interview training, among other things.

Carroll said 280 unique employers listed 732 jobs with WorkSource from July 1, 2012, through June 30 this year. While some of those employers have specific requirements regarding education and experience, he said sometimes WorkSource can help job seekers highlight their transferrable skills to stand out among the crowd.

“They just want someone who’s going to fit in and have a good work ethic,” he said. “A lot of what we do is preparing people so they can be successful if they do get hired.”

Ferry County’s unemployment rate in July was 11.9 percent, the highest in the state.

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