Wichita jobless rate rises in January

Post-Christmas layoffs and a renewed search for work by the unemployed pushed the Wichita-area unemployment rate in January to 8.6 percent, from a revised 7.8 percent in December, the Kansas Department of Labor said Tuesday.

Every January sees a surge in the unemployment rate, say economists — the state and all of its metro areas saw similar bumps in January.

Unemployment rates in other Kansas metro areas were: Kansas City area, 7.5 percent; Topeka, 7.3 percent; Manhattan, 6.1 percent; and Lawrence, 5.8 percent. Kansas had a rate of 7.1 percent in January, up from 6.2 percent in December.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, citing the new numbers, called on the Legislature to minimize further cuts in government.

"These numbers are discouraging; it's clear that Kansas continues to reel from the effects of the national recession," he said in a statement. "While we remain below the national unemployment rate, there are still too many Kansans without a job."

While the surge in unemployment reflects real joblessness, it happens every January. Adjusting for that surge — as the national unemployment numbers do — shows that the underlying unemployment situation really hasn't gotten any worse, said state labor economist Tyler Tenbrink.

He said the state unemployment rate appears to have stabilized, although at a very high level, and awaits the return of hiring.

What makes the January numbers curious is that the number of people employed is about the same, month to month. What drove the unemployment number up was 3,000 more people looking for work.

That may reflect unemployed individuals who took time off for the holidays and in January started looking again. It may also mean some laid-off workers are reaching the end of their unemployment benefits and are searching harder for work.

But the local overall economic situation doesn't appear to be getting any worse, said Friends University economist Malcolm Harris. The aircraft industry will remain down for months to come, he said.

"The aircraft industry isn't going to lead the local economy out for some time," he said. "I hope that the rest of the economy will lead us out."