Unemployment in northwest Kansas fell in August, even as the state average increased.
Seven of the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas reported unemployment rates of less than 3 percent while just three had rates of 4 percent or higher. Nearly half the counties in July had unemployment rates of 4 percent or greater.
That’s the latest numbers from the Kansas Department of Labor, which is reporting a sharp increase in labor force departures during the summer months — essentially people no longer looking for work.
“A survey of Kansans shows that the number of people in the labor force declined over the summer months, leaving many employers with positions to fill,” KDOL senior labor economist Tyler Tenbrink said. “This has led to an increase in hours worked by existing employees in order to perform the work needed.”
KDOL reported some of those losses might be as a result of retirements.
The trend in northwest Kansas, however, has been ongoing.
Since August 2013, the northwest Kansas labor force — people actually working and those looking for work — has dropped by 7.25 percent. That’s equal to 4,513 people.
The size of labor force in northwest Kansas fell by 3,434 between August 2013 and August 2014.
In conjunction with the August unemployment numbers, KDOL issued a report suggesting big job vacancy numbers.
Most of the vacant jobs, however, are low-wage positions, many in the food service industry.
KDOL reported there were 10,638 vacancies — up 976 compared to a year ago — during the second quarter of 2015 in the area that corresponds with the state’s biggest congressional district.
The job vacancy report was 3.9 percent. That means there were 3.9 vacant positions for every 100 jobs, and 1.2 unemployed workers for every vacancy.
“At 8.6 percent, the leisure and hospitality industry recorded the highest job vacancy rate of any supersector,” the job vacancy survey showed. “Almost half of the open positions were for combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food.”
The average wage for those jobs stood at $7.37 an hour.
The education and health services job category had the biggest number of job vacancies, with 2,071, but most of them were for personal care aides, with average starting wages ranging from $8.53 an hour to $8.62.
The statewide job vacancy report showed the number of job openings increased by just 2,383 to a total of 47,269 open jobs.
“Kansas workers continue to earn more money as private sector wages grew by 3.6 percent compared to this time last year,” KDOL Secretary Lana Gordon said. “Plus, an annual increase in job openings of 5.3 percent shows opportunities exist for job seekers to participate in the Kansas economy,.”
Across Kansas, August’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.6 percent. That’s equal to a month earlier, but up from 4.3 percent a year earlier.
Seasonally adjusted figures show Kansas gained 4,400 private-sector jobs since last year and 1,000 nonfarm jobs. In the past month, Kansas lost 2,000 seasonally adjusted private-sector jobs and 3,000 seasonally adjusted total nonfarm jobs.
Not seasonally adjusted numbers show Kansas gained 6,300 private sector jobs since last year and 3,000 nonfarm jobs since August 2014. But in the past month, private-sector jobs decreased by 5,200 and 4,000 nonfarm jobs were lost.
The not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August was 4.5 percent, down from 5 percent in July and down from 4.7 percent a year ago.
There were 11,237 initial claims for unemployment benefits in August 2015, down from 11,553 in July but up from 9,953 in August 2014.