REGIONAL—Despite the statewide unemployment rate pushing above 6 percent, N’West Iowa is sitting much lower than the June average.
According to figures released by Iowa Workforce Development on July 17, the state’s unemployment rate climbed to 6.2 percent in June from a revised 5.7 percent in May and 5.1 percent in April. June 2007 saw an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent.
June’s rate is a 22-year high.
Worsening economic conditions have pushed the number of unemployed workers in Iowa to 104,100 — the highest it has been since February 1986.
N’West Iowa, on the other hand, is sitting much better, although the four-county area still saw slight increases.
For the month of June, Lyon County saw an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent, an increase from 3.6 in both May and April. O’Brien County was at 5.1 percent for June, while it saw rates of 4.6 in May and 4.2 in April. Osceola County was at 5.7 percent for June, an increase from 4.9 in May and 4.8 in April. Sioux County was at 4.5 percent for June, while it was at 3.7 for both May and April.
In June 2007, Lyon County was at 2.5 percent, O’Brien County was at 3.1, Osceola County was at 3.5 and Sioux County was at 2.9.
“Traditionally, northwest Iowa has always had a strong economic base, so the unemployment rate tends to run lower than the rest of the state,” said Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development. “That’s very positive for the area.”
She said the increase is primarily due to two instances: The combined effects of continuing layoffs and recent high school and college graduates entering the job market.
“During May and June, we always see an influx in new job seekers in the labor force,” Koonce said.
Still, the national economic situation is not helping matters.
“The June labor market numbers depict the effects of a severe and lingering recession on the Iowa economy,” said Elisabeth Buck, director of Iowa Workforce Development. “Iowa followed the national trend in June with its steepest job cuts occurring in construction, manufacturing and professional and business services.”
Koonce said it does not look like the state will be rebounding anytime soon.
State officials estimate that about 16,000 Iowans have lost the unemployment safety net since May. Most unemployed workers in Iowa receive 46 weeks of benefits — 26 weeks of standard benefits plus two federal extensions of 10 weeks each.
Koonce said on average, Iowans typically use 12 weeks of unemployment.
No matter, the statewide figures still remain lower than the national average.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 9.5 percent in June, up from 9.4 percent in May and 5.6 percent a year ago.
“Iowa is always lower than the national average because of the size of the workforce compared to the overall population,” Koonce said.
According to Iowa Workforce Development data, the nation has lost 6.5 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) this week applauded Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis for traveling to Iowa to see innovative workforce training initiatives and announce two National Emergency Grant awards to Iowa communities suffering from recent layoffs.
Harkin chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds labor initiatives and worked to secure additional resources in the Economic Recovery Package to assist out of work Americans.
“Rising unemployment is a growing concern for families across the U.S., but particularly here in Iowa,” Harkin said in a statement. “There is no quick fix to the economy, but we can take meaningful steps to increase resources that will help dislocated workers and give them the skills they need to re-enter the workforce. With Iowa’s unemployment once again on the rise, this funding comes in the nick of time.”
The National Emergency Grants will be awarded to the following:
Iowa Workforce Development, $664,074: To assist workers affected by layoffs resulting from the closure of RR Donnelley in Spencer. This project will provide employment-related services to dislocated workers in Buena Vista, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth, O’Brien and Palo Alto counties.
Iowa Workforce Development, $335,853: This project will provide access to “wrap-around” services like career counseling, assessment and job search assistance. Supportive services also will be available as needed. The project will benefit Allamakee, Bremer, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties.
This article appeared in the July 25, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.