This is the first of two stories on the economy in northwest Kansas.

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Unemployment in northwest Kansas has done the unthinkable, dropping below 2 percent.

Anything below 4 percent unemployment long has been considered full employment, according to Kansas Department of Commerce officials.

Wallace County even went so far as to fall to 1.5 percent, according to October unemployment figures released by the Kansas Department of Labor.

At that level, just 18 people in Wallace County are out of work and actively looking for a job.

Sheridan, Gove, Logan, Trego and Ellis counties aren't far behind, each one of them with less than 2 percent unemployment rates.

Ellis County had a 1.96 percent unemployment rate, which means just 412 people -- out of a civilian labor force of 21,062 -- were without a job.

In all, nine Kansas counties had unemployment rates below 2 percent.

Overall, the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas had a combined unemployment rate of just 2.23 percent. That's a quarter of a percent less than what was reported in September.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent in October, down from 4.7 percent in September and 5.2 percent a year ago.

Kansas gained 13,900 seasonally adjusted private-sector jobs, an increase of 1.2 percent since last year, and 13,800 nonfarm jobs, a 1-percent increase.

In the past month, Kansas gained 7,500 seasonally adjusted private-sector jobs, a slight increase. The state gained 8,400 seasonally adjusted total nonfarm jobs. Combined, that's slightly more than 1 percent.

"The private sector continues to lead Kansas' comeback from the Great Recession," said Justin McFarland, director of KDOL's Labor Market Information Services. "This month, employers boosted job levels to a new record high,"

That's not all.

"Kansans also saw their earnings increase by 3.3 percent over the year," McFarland said. "The increased income will continue to drive growth."

The increase, however, isn't being seen uniformly.

Per capita income in Kansas, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, increased by 5.5 percent from 2011 to 2013, the most recent numbers available.

As for unemployment, the not seasonally adjusted figures show Kansas gained 13,900 private-sector jobs in the past year, or 1.2 percent, as well as 13,900 nonfarm jobs, an increase of 1 percent.

"Labor market conditions improved with record high employment and a 0.3 percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent in September to 4.4 percent in October," said KDOL labor economist Efua Afful. "With higher consumption capacity, we expect greater demand for goods and services with benefits for consumers and businesses."

The not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October was 3.8 percent, down from 4.3 percent in September and down from 4.9 percent last year.

There were 11,175 initial claims for unemployment benefits in October 2014, up from 10,978 in September but down from 13,489 last year.