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Local jobless rate climbs, but well below state and nation

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Buena Vista County's unemployment rate continues to slowly rise, although the jobless percentage remains below the state average.

The unemployment rate in the county rose from 3.2 percent in November to 3.9 percent in December and 4.1 percent headed into February.

That equals an estimated 100 more local people out of work and looking for jobs than two months ago; about 440 unemployed residents of the county. There are about 13,000 more unemployed people in Iowa today than a year ago.

The local jobless rate has risen for four consecutive months. Traditionally, the county runs well below the state average, and has been as low as 2 percent in jobless rates. Winter figures are often slightly higher than the rest of the year, as some seasonal entertainment and construction positions are idled. For example, the Storm Lake area has idled jobs at the waterpark, golf courses and parks - jobs that return in the spring.

Iowa Workforce Development agency estimates the statewide jobless rate at 4.6 percent, up from 4.3 percent a month ago.

The jobless situation varies widely across the state, from a high of over 9 percent unemployed in Hancock County, to a low of 3 percent in Lyon and Carroll counties.

In the region, Cherokee County reports 3.5 percent unemployment, Pocahontas 3.6 percent. Clay County and Sac County 4 percent, Ida 5.2 percent, Dickinson County 5.4 percent.

Clay County had seen a 3.2 percent rate a month earlier, the lowest in the region, but several Spencer firms have announced layoffs or closings, which are beginning to show up in the statistics.

Storm Lake City Development Director Mike Wilson said that the community has been relatively fortunate to retain its year-around jobs. "We have been lucky compared to a lot of other places. The kind of jobs we have - people are still going to need pork and turkey products. Society will still need educators for our students and health care for the ill."

Among Iowa cities, the college towns of Ames and Iowa City are faring best with less than 3 percent unemployment, according to state figures. Des Moines has 5.5 percent, and the highest metro jobless rates are in Marshalltown and Burlington, each around 7.5 percent.

The U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent, as businesses across the nation downsized their workforces in response to slower growth and falling profits.

"An acceleration in layoffs toward the end of the year was responsible for the large increase in unemployment rate," said Elisabeth Buck, director of Iowa Workforce Development. "The most difficult six months of the current downturn will be the just-completed fourth quarter and the first quarter of 2009."

The total number of working Iowans dropped to 1,594,800, nearly 8,000 less than one year ago.

The professional and business services sector has been losing employment nationwide, and Iowa followed the trend by dropping 4,500 over a month's time. Other losses were contained in the goods-producing sectors, where construction and manufacturing decreased by 3,500 and 2,300, respectively. Leisure and hospitality added 1,200 jobs over the month. Education and health added 700 jobs, and trade and transportation increased by 400.

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