PITTSBURG — The Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released preliminary October unemployment rate estimates this week, noting they reached a new low. In southeast Kansas, however, unemployment remains higher than the statewide average.
“Kansans can recognize two important milestones this month. The unemployment rate fell to 3.1 percent in October, the lowest rate in 40 years. April 1979 was the last month the unemployment rate was 3.1 percent,” Kansas Secretary of Labor DelÍa GarcÍa said in a release. “Additionally, October established a record high level in the number of Kansans working.”
While Kansas’ overall unemployment rate may be declining, among 15 counties in the southeast corner of the state — Greenwood, Coffey, Anderson, Linn, Woodson, Allen, Bourbon, Elk, Wilson, Neosho, Crawford, Chautauqua, Montgomery, Labette and Cherokee — the average unemployment rate was closer to 3.5 percent.
Crawford County, with an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent not only in October of this year but also in September, as well as in October of last year, may reflect the region-wide trend about as well as any nearby county. Although two other nearby counties — Coffey and Chautauqua — also had a 3.5 percent unemployment rate in October, they had both fluctuated slightly from the previous month. Cherokee County, meanwhile, was the one county of the 15 to exactly match the statewide average unemployment rate at 3.1 percent. Although three counties of the 15 — Allen, Anderson and Greenwood — had unemployment rates below 3 percent in October, three others — Linn, Montgomery and Neosho — had rates over 4 percent.
“Total nonfarm jobs in Kansas have increased by 1.3 percent compared to last October. The state is continuing to show growth over the year, despite job declines over the month,” Emilie Doerksen, labor economist with the KDOL, said in the recent release. “The largest losses were concentrated in the manufacturing industry which was impacted by national strike activity.”
Doerksen also discussed factors that have contributed to southeast Kansas having higher unemployment than the statewide average.
“Unemployment rates in southeast Kansas are slightly higher than statewide, but have been following the same downward trend,” she wrote in an email. “Unemployment rates are at, or near, historic lows for both regions. The industry composition in southeast Kansas has contributed to higher unemployment rates. Southeast Kansas has a higher percentage of jobs in the manufacturing industry than statewide. Since manufacturing lost a significant number of jobs during the last recession, this had a disproportionate effect on unemployment rates in southeast Kansas.”
While southeast Kansas as a multi-county region may have the highest unemployment rate of any part of the state, area residents can take some comfort in the fact that the highest unemployment rate in October of any Kansas county was not one in the region. At 5.2 percent, the unemployment rate in Atchison County, northwest of Kansas City, was more than one percentage point higher than in October 2018, when it stood at 3.9 percent.