The unemployment rate in the Wichita area fell to 5.8 percent in October, its lowest level since December 2008 – and down from 6.3 percent in September and 7.1 percent in August, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.
The metro area’s rate for October 2012 was 6.1 percent.
The rate may not represent as much good news as a first glance might indicate.
While it’s true the local unemployment rate has been trending down for four years, October typically has one of the lowest unemployment rates of the year, said Efua Afful, economist with the Kansas Department of Labor. The local unemployment rate isn’t seasonally adjusted, which means it jumps round with regular seasonal changes, such as when students stop looking for work and go back to school.
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The monthly survey of households – which produces the unemployment rate – showed that the number of people working in the Wichita area in October was about 280,700, one of the lowest levels of the last four years. Last year, the same survey for October found 283,044 residents were working.
But what made the October unemployment rate look especially good was that the number of people unemployed – those out-of-work, but actively looking – fell to 17,300, a level not seen since 2000. This means that thousands of people have stopped looking for work for a variety of reasons – reasons that generally include retirement, disability, leaving town, going back to school, or just deciding to give up the job search.
“We have lots of variables,” said Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. “We still having companies pushing people into early retirement, and not just in manufacturing.”
Hill said that is not necessarily a bad thing for the economy as people adapt to the work available. But many economists worry that longer term it means fewer workers will be available when the economy snaps back.
Fortunately, Hill said, it appears that economic indicators are starting to turn positive more consistently for Wichita.
“We’re getting some positive signs,” he said. “But it’s important to note that some of those jobs won’t be coming back the way they were before.”
The state of Kansas also posted an improved unemployment rate of 5.1 percent. That’s down from 5.4 percent in September and slightly ahead of 5.2 percent in October of 2012.
Afful said the federal furlough didn’t appear to affect the numbers.
The unemployment rates for other Kansas metros were:
Lawrence, 4.3 percent; Manhattan, 4.7 percent; Kansas portion of the Kansas City area, 5.4 percent; Topeka 5.5 percent.