TOPEKA — Unemployment rose during the past year in swaths of western Kansas, data from the Kansas Department of Labor shows, even as the state’s overall unemployment rate is at its lowest point in more than a decade.
A chart from KDOL shows a number of counties, concentrated in northwest Kansas, as well as parts of southeast Kansas, saw a rise in unemployment from December 2014 to December 2015.
Meanwhile, the same chart shows unemployment rates falling in northeast Kansas, as well as south-central Kansas — including Sedgwick County, where Wichita is located — and surrounding areas.
The chart, along with other economic data, was distributed to the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday during a briefing on the state’s labor market.
Last week, the labor department said the state gained 9,400 private-sector jobs during the past year, with the unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, down from 4.2 percent in December 2014. While the figure represents an increase of 0.8 percent, it was well short of the per-year goal set by Gov. Sam Brownback of 25,000 jobs.
Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, sits on the committee. He pointed to falling agricultural commodity prices in seeking to explain the rise in rural unemployment.
“So you’re seeing that effect way out in rural Kansas, and the population is so thin even a small change shows up really quickly,” Denning said.
Even though unemployment might have risen in many rural counties, because of small populations, each county might have only lost a handful of jobs. According to the chart, the growth in unemployment typically ranged between 0.2 percent and 1.5 percent.
“That only tells us a little bit of the picture, though, because again, these are smaller-population counties in western Kansas,” said Justin McFarland, with the labor department.
Statewide, private-sector jobs, on average, saw an increase in average hourly earnings and average weekly earnings during the past year.
Average hourly earnings were up 2.4 percent, or $0.53. The average stands at $22.98
Average weekly earnings were up 0.3 percent, or $2.19. The average sits at $776.72.
Average weekly hours worked, however, declined. The weekly hours worked declined by 2 percent, to 33.8 hours.