Buena Vista County's unemployment rate saw a sharp increase last month, rising from 3.2 percent in November to 3.9 percent in December, nearly equalling the state average of 4 percent. The local jobless rate has risen for three consecutive months.Traditionally, the county runs well below the state average, and has been as low as 2 percent in jobless rates.
Iowa Workforce agency estimates that there were 410 people in the county who are unemployed and seeking work at the end of the year, out of an available workforce of about 10,000. In November, only 330 people had been considered unemployed.
In the area, Cherokee County and Ida County had the highest jobless rates at 4.7 percent; Dickinson County (Spirit Lake) saw 4.5 percent; Sac County (Sac City) 3.9 percent; Pocahontas County 3.6 percent. Clay County (Spencer) saw the lowest local rate at 3.5 percent.
The state's unemployment rate is at the highest level in 23 months, an indication that the housing slump is beginning to dampen other sectors of the state's economy, Iowa Workforce Development officials said.
The home mortgage crunch, which all but halted housing construction, has begun to slow the sale of furniture, appliances, windows and doors, agency spokeswoman Ann Wagner said.
The largest single drop occurred in professional services, which shed 500 jobs in December. Health, education and construction decreased by 400 each.
Manufacturing lost 300 jobs, according to state figures. It is not unusual for some construction and manfacturing firms to reduce workforce in the coldest months, however.
Wagner said the layoffs in the manufacturing sector that includes appliances, windows and doors could be an early indication of recession.
"I see some similarities from past recessions. I see the little layoffs in durable goods manufacturing that have picked up," she said. "They aren't real severe at this point but I can see some of that starting. That's been the lead-in in the past."
David Osterberg, executive director of the Mount Vernon-based nonprofit research and policy group Iowa Policy Project, said a rising unemployment rate is not good at a time when there's concern that a recession is coming.
"This isn't the signal we need when many are talking about a possible recession," he said. "As we've noted often, one month's performance should not be overstated. The trends over several months and longer are more important. That said, the trends for Iowa right now are not strong."
However, Iowa still remains well below the national unemployment rate, which stands at 5 percent and rising.
Some sectors of the Iowa economy saw job growth in December. Trade and transportation gained the most jobs at 400.
Education and health services and leisure and hospitality added the most jobs over the year at 3,700 each. Trade, transportation and utilities followed with a gain of 2,800; the job gains were largely concentrated in transportation and warehousing.
Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce officials say that the local economy is showing few signs of slowing, with a number of new businesses and business prospects fueling jobs.
"A whole lot of places have the 'Help Wanted' sign out," said Chamber Director Marilyn Monson.
With a new resort and waterpark, a new Walgreens store, a new restaueant, a new furniture store planned and new book and candy store and flooring stores nearing opening downtown, employment in the city is expected to show an increase.