TOPEKA — The state's economy is improving but thousands of people are still looking for work, Kansas Labor Secretary Jim Garner said Friday during his annual "State of Labor" report.
The number of unemployed Kansas residents filing for first-time unemployment benefits is down from last year, and companies are beginning to hire new employees, Garner said.
"We still have major work ahead of us to see a full recovery in the labor market, but there are certainly encouraging signs," he said at the Kansas Statehouse.
Last year's unemployment peaked at 7.9 percent in July and averaged 6.7 percent for the full year. Hardest hit among the state's industries was manufacturing, which lost more than 19,600 jobs in 2009.
Kansas made employment gains this July that were greater than in July 2009, including more finding work in construction. That marked the first time since 2008 that employment gains were higher in a month compared to the same month the previous year.
However, the state's unemployment benefit system may need to borrow more federal funds to pay all the claims expected this year, Garner said. Kansas has already borrowed $88 million from Washington to cover shortfalls in the benefit system, but Garner doesn't know how much more may be needed.
More than $1 billion in unemployment benefits, counting both state and federal programs, were distributed in Kansas in 2009, Garner said. The average person received unemployment benefits for 35.7 weeks from July 2009 through July 2010.
"We will do what is necessary to make sure we do not fail the Kansans who rely on these benefits," Garner said, adding that the payments keep people in their homes and food on their tables while looking for new jobs.
He said jobs in renewable energy, health care and social assistance are signs that Kansas will recover over the next decade. A survey of Kansas firms conducted by the state Department of Labor found that the state has 20,000 jobs related to "green" industries, with the potential for an additional 10,000 jobs by 2012, he said.