Area, state see uptick in unemployment




Unemployment rates for Garden City and Finney County, along with the state, were up in May. However, some local officials say anecdotal evidence doesn't support the figures.

Finney County's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in May, compared to 3.9 percent in May 2012. Garden City's rate for May 2013 was 5.3 percent, compared to 4.2 percent for May 2012. The state unemployment rate came in at 5.8 percent for May, compared to 5.7 percent for May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Linda Nickisch, an economist with the BLS in Kansas City, Mo., said more people may be seeking jobs because the economy is looking better. Recent graduates are also in the mix, she said.

The national unemployment rate for May was 7.3 percent, compared to 7.9 percent in May 2012.

"It has been steadily declining," Nickisch said. "The last few months have been kind of flat. It hasn't been moving much in the last few months, but looking at where we were a few years ago, it has declined."

Generally speaking, she said, the Midwest didn't experience the high unemployment rates that other states did.

Lona DuVall, Finney County Economic Development Corp. president, said she doesn't think the local figures are correct.

"I say that because I'm a community coach for Wichita County. Their numbers skyrocketed in May," DuVall said, and they couldn't figure out why. "... Nothing we see locally — boots on the ground — would indicate we have an increase in unemployment. We haven't had any major layoffs or shutdowns. It doesn't make any sense. We just added Menards that has all those employees. I don't know where that data is coming from that they're using for that."

The new Menards store has approximately 200 employees.

Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce President Steve Dyer also said the numbers paint a different picture than what he's seen.

"I know that it's difficult to find qualified employees right now in Finney County. I guess if the numbers are saying there's more unemployed people out there, we need to find them. I know there are members looking for employees that are still looking for employees. I listen to the members more than the statistics," Dyer said.

He said a couple of different chamber members are looking for skilled labor supervisors and skilled laborers in a variety of industries. He said it's possible the people looking for jobs don't have the skills employers are looking for, or need to go back to school for training. DuVall said she's still seeing a need for welders and truck drivers, plus an uptick in employers looking for store clerks.

"We're seeing openings in the health field," DuVall said. "It will be kind of interesting to see how the health care side works out."

She said Centura Health of Englewood, Colo., just recently took over management of St. Catherine Hospital.

"I'm not sure how they'll do as far as workforce recruitment for the hospital," DuVall said.

The FCEDC also is working on a couple of expansions of existing businesses that DuVall said will be "very good job creators." She also noted Agridyne, an Illinois-based company, is poised to build a facility in Holcomb that will create 10 to 15 direct jobs and additional indirect positions.

Kansas Department of Labor economist Efua Afful said the labor force includes people who are working and those looking for work. Unemployment increases, in part when more people are looking for work. For example, senior labor economist Tyler Tenbrink said if someone's company shuts down and they decide not to look for work for a while, they would go from in the labor force to not in the labor force and unemployed.

If they decide to look for work, they're considered in the labor force but unemployed, he said. And when they find a job, they move from being in the labor force and unemployed to being employed and in the labor force, Tenbrink said.

"We use the year-over-year changes to filter out the seasonality," Afful said. "In January 2012, we saw a decrease in labor force and employment, however, the decrease in the labor force was greater than the decrease in employment. It wasn't only those who were losing their jobs who were leaving the labor force, but also the unemployed who were leaving the labor force. There are people who are classified as unemployed because they were looking for jobs in the last four weeks and didn't work in the last four weeks, or they decide they're not going to look for jobs."

She and Tenbrink said people may decide not to seek jobs for reasons such as lack of transportation, child care issues, or health or family reasons.

"In June 2012, we still saw a decrease in the labor force and a decrease in the number of people employed, but the trend slightly changed," Afful said, adding that number of people losing their jobs was higher than the number of people leaving the labor force.

"We realized in June 2012 we had a positive change in the number of people who were unemployed. This trend has continued generally until now," Afful said. "The number of people who are unemployed doesn't encompass only people who lost their jobs. It could be new entries into the labor force."

The positive change means more people joining the labor force, which Afful said is good.

People are now more confident about looking for work than they were at this time last year, she said.

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