South Sound unemployment rates rise in August

South Sound unemployment rates inched higher in August, rising to 5.5 percent in Thurston County and 6.1 percent in Pierce County, according to state Employment Security Department data released Tuesday.

But once again it was a tale of two counties as Pierce County added jobs in the July to August period, while Thurston County shed jobs.

And though both county jobless rates are at or near pre-recession levels, that doesn’t mean people have stopped looking for work. More than 400 people showed up to a hiring event at South Puget Sound Community College last week and another 30 participated in a job fair on Tuesday for an Olympia business.

One job seeker said Tuesday that he has been “chronically underemployed” in this economy.

Pierce County, meanwhile, had another decent month, adding 400 jobs in the July to August period, with the construction industry leading the way with 700 jobs, Employment Security regional economist Jim Vleming said.

Other industry sectors in the county shed jobs, resulting in a net gain of 400.

The jobless rate can bump up as more people enter the labor force, he said, which resulted in it rising to 6.1 percent last month from 5.8 percent in July in Pierce County.

In Thurston County, the jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent from 5.2 percent because the county shed 1,200 jobs in the July to August period, mostly in the public sector, Vleming said.

That might explain why 450 people participated in a hiring event last Friday at the community college and another 30 learned about job opportunities at Smart Energy Today, a rapidly growing contractor in Olympia that has tapped into the “green” movement, selling and installing energy-efficient equipment for the residential market, such as solar panels and solar fans for attics.

Owners Rex and Yumi Schade held a celebratory lunch on Tuesday to recognize the growth of their business -- it has grown to 70 employees in two years -- followed by a hiring event for the business. The business needs to fill 30 positions immediately, Rex Schade Jr. said.

Job seekers lined up at three tables to apply or learn more about jobs in sales, administrative positions and field technician positions.

Steve Rogers, 30, of Lacey stopped by, hoping to find full-time work to support his wife and daughter. He currently has a part-time job, but it’s only 20 hours per week. And that’s been the theme of his working career since graduating from college, he said. Instead of full-time work he has found work that either pays too little or doesn’t provide enough hours, Rogers said.

Hourly wages at Smart Energy Today start in the $12 to $15 range, Rex Schade Jr. said.