Job recovery from pandemic continues in Yakima County; agriculture playing a bigger role

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While the nation’s economy struggles with high inflation and two straight quarters of declining production, job numbers in Yakima County continue to improve after bottoming out during the pandemic.

Additionally, an analysis of the past 10 years of job growth shows a healthy increase in employment and wages in the county, particularly in the agricultural sector, said Don Meseck, regional labor economist with the state’s Employment Security Department.

June job numbers released on Friday show the continued rebound of jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago, and especially over the past 15 months.

In Yakima County, monthly unemployment rates have fallen year-over-year in each month since April 2021, Meseck reported. This includes June, with the local 5.5% unemployment rate lower than the June 2021 rate of 6.6%.

While the lower jobless rate is good news, Meseck said a look at the civilian labor force shows the region has not fully recovered from the job losses of the pandemic.

The county’s civilian labor force shrank 1.7%, from 133,379 to 131,144, between 2020 and 2021, Meseck said. However, after 13 straight months of contractions from July 2020 through July 2021, the local labor force has either stabilized or expanded in each of the past 11 months.

“Although this more recent 11-month string of year-over-year stability or increases in the civilian labor force are steps in the right direction, we are not out of the woods yet,” Meseck added. “There were still 1,873 fewer Yakima County residents in the CLF this June (139,283) than in June 2019 (141,156). Hence, Yakima County’s labor force is still rebuilding.”

The recent job growth is illustrated by nonfarm employment, which increased by 4.4% (3,800 jobs) between June 2021 and this June, rising from 85,500 to 89,300 jobs in Yakima County.

“These data provide a little more optimistic view of the local and statewide economies,” Meseck said. “Nonfarm employment in June 2022 (89,300 jobs) was 800 jobs and 0.9% above the 88,500 jobs provided three years ago, in June 2019, indicating that the local economy provided more jobs this June than it did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Agriculture trends

Both of these growth areas were led by agricultural jobs, with the agricultural share of total employment increasing from 24.8% to 26.5% between 2011 and 2021, Meseck said. Within this 10-year period, agriculture’s share of the county’s jobs was highest in 2016, at 28.1%.

Likewise, the agricultural sector’s share of total wages increased from 17.3% in 2021 to 21% in 2022.

“One could say that in the most recent 10-year time frame, the agricultural industry, in terms of employment and especially in terms of payroll, has become more influential in the Yakima County economy,” Meseck reported.

“Although agriculture is still a seasonal industry in Yakima County, anecdotal evidence indicates that relatively more agriculture workers are being hired into full-time, year-round positions, with fewer hires into part-time or seasonal jobs,” he added.

For a complete monthly economic report for Washington state, visit esd.wa.gov/labormarketinfo/monthly-employment-report.