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Local unemployment lower than state, national rates

3/16/2013

By RUTH CAMPBELL

By RUTH CAMPBELL

rcampbell@gctelegram.com

Finney County's unemployment rate of 4.4 percent for December 2012 is lower than the state and nation, but still higher than it was in December 2011.

Back then, the figure stood at 3.6 percent. Jacqueline Midkiff, regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Kansas City, Mo., said the county's labor force is also smaller by about 1,000 in the most current preliminary, non-seasonally adjusted numbers.

The current county labor force is 20,036, down from 21,161 in December 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Garden City's unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, with a labor force of 14,039, according to the latest numbers.

In December 2011, the city's unemployment rate was 3.9 percent. The labor force numbered 14,817.

"Many places wish they could have a 4.4 percent unemployment rate," Midkiff said. "Even though it's a little higher than it was last December, it's not anywhere close to where most areas are right now."

According to information from the Kansas Department of Labor, the May 25, 2012, closure of the Beef Products, Inc. meat processing plant in Holcomb, which employed 236 people, had a ripple effect on the economy.

Lona DuVall, president and CEO of Finney County Economic Development Corp., said the closure was due to the controversy over so-called "pink slime."

The beef filler was the subject of news reports that caused consumer concerns and prompted companies to stop using the product, forcing BPI to shutter several facilities including the one in Holcomb. DuVall said many of the employees were absorbed by other similar industries.

But she said the difference in the labor market can be attributed to inaccurate census figures, which throw other reports off.

"By October, the number of people unemployed had decreased to 877 and the unemployment rate had declined to 4.4 percent. Before the BPI closing, the rate of unemployment was 4 percent instead of 3.6 percent since there were changes in the labor force from December 2011 until the plant closed," the labor department said.

The labor department said the effect of BPI's closure was most evident from June until about October. "As such, the 0.8 percent increase in the rate of unemployment from December 2011 to December 2012 is not wholly attributable to BPI's actions but, in addition, other changes in unemployment, employment and the labor force since the strength of effect of the plant closing seems to have gradually declined," the information said.

By December 2012, Finney County's labor force was reduced by 1,125 to 20,036.

"There are various reasons that could influence how people make choices about labor force participation. It is possible that first, people were discouraged from participation when the BPI layoffs occurred and became somewhat pessimistic about the probability of finding a job with a higher number of people competing for jobs. While the (labor force) increased in June, it is possible that the high rate of unemployment caused by the layoffs (contributed about 83.4 percent of unemployed individuals in June) led to decreases of 169, 452, 250 and 635 in July, August, September and October, respectively," the labor department said.

"The increase in November was only 90 and decreased in December 2012 by 75 people. Second, unavailable county data that could also give us clues as to what caused the (labor force) to decline include the Labor Force Participation Rate (ratio of non-institutionalized population 16 years and over who are in the labor force to total non-institutionalized population); if this did not change, then the change in (labor force) is nothing to worry about because it is possible that some people retired and also net migration could have been negative which could affect the size of the population. Third, average weekly wages decreased slightly such that those whose reservation wages are above the new lower rates would not accept employment though the changes are very small. New hire wages are normally below the average wage. For Finney County, about 65 percent of average monthly wages using data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012 (used average over five quarters since we do not have current data). These are inferences based on available data ad general determinants of labor force participation," the information said.

When the BPI layoff occurred, extra staff was put in the KansasWorks office in Dodge City to help those employees through the job search and unemployment process.

Jean Dizmang, workforce services supervisor for the Kansas Department of Commerce, oversees the KansasWorks offices in Garden City and Dodge City. Dizmang said several people were placed in retraining programs to find better jobs. Retraining funding is available through the Workforce Reinvestment Act.

People who are laid off are automatically referred to Workforce Reinvestment Act case managers to see if they qualify for funding that could be used for retraining, Dizmang said. KansasWorks can help people find jobs, write resumes and prepare for interviews. Staff can also show clients online job applications and point them ti jobs they know of, she said.

"We focus on finding people employment, or putting them into training so they can get a better job," she said. If someone needs help with an unemployment matter, Dizmang said staff can help get them on the phone with the Department of Labor in Topeka.

Kansas' unemployment rate for December 2012 was 5.3 percent and had a labor force of 1.48 million, not seasonally adjusted. In December 2011, it was 5.7 percent and the labor force was 1.49 million.

Nationally, unemployment for December was 7.6 percent — not seasonally adjusted. The national labor force was 155.5 million. In December 2011, it was 8.5 percent and the labor force was 153.9 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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