A strange thing happened on the way to the January labor report. Sheridan County dropped into third place -- but only because "S" comes after "N" in the alphabet.

As a result, Ness County was listed first in Tuesday's unemployment report from the Kansas Department of Labor.

Greeley County, with a 2.2-percent unemployment rate, and just 20 people actively looking for work, was the leader in the state's race to have the lowest unemployment rate.

Ness and Sheridan counties each had unemployment rates of 2.5 percent, the report said.

Ellis and Logan counties followed close behind, both with 2.6-percent unemployment rates. Gove County also was in the top 10, with a 2.8-percent rate.

Across the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas, the average unemployment rate in January stood at 3.24 percent.

That's well below the almost 4 percent unemployment rate a year ago, but slightly higher than in December.

Kansas had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, down slightly from December.

It is, however, down almost 1 percent from a year ago.

According to Tuesday's report, Kansas gained 20,500 seasonally adjusted private sector jobs in the past year and 19,200 nonfarm jobs.

Monthly job gains, however, were more moderate, with 2,500 new private sector jobs and 600 nonfarm jobs.

"Seasonally adjusted job numbers in the state improved in January, along with another monthly decline in the unemployment rate," said KDOL Secretary Lana Gordon. "For 2014, the state is poised to add additional jobs to the 45,400 jobs gained since January 2011."

Adjustments made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show an improved job market in Kansas, KDOL said.

"Preliminary estimates of seasonally adjusted jobs in 2013 have now been revised showing the state gained more jobs than earlier estimates reported," said KDOL senior labor economist Tyler Tenbrink. "The revised 2013 job numbers show an average gain of 1,700 jobs per month compared to the previously reported estimates of an average monthly gain of 800 jobs."

Figures not seasonally adjusted show Kansas gained 20,700 private sector jobs and 19,000 nonfarm jobs since January 2013, or 1.9 and 1.4 percent respectively. But Kansas lost 21,800 private sector jobs between December and January, and another 31,300 nonfarm jobs.

As a result, the unemployment rate not seasonally adjusted stood at 5.4 percent in January, up sharply from 4.6 percent in December. The January rate still was down from 6.3 percent a year ago.

Still, there were 15,709 initial claims for unemployment benefits in January, down from 19,749 a month earlier and down from 17,413 a year ago.