Area jobless rate drops in Feb.

The unemployment rate for the Wichita area in February was 8.1 percent, down from 8.6 percent in January.

According to figures released Friday by the Kansas Department of Labor, the number of people working and the number searching for work were down about 2,000 in February from the month before.

The state rate for February, which was released last week, was 6.8 percent. Wichita again had the highest rate among big cities in Kansas.

The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in Kansas City, 7.0 percent in Topeka, 5.6 percent in Lawrence and 5.2 percent in Manhattan.

The federal unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in February and March.

Two local economists said that Wichita unemployment had hit bottom, after a rocky ride during the summer and fall, and probably would stay about where it is for the remainder of the year.

The national recovery is definitely under way, said Friends University's Malcolm Harris, as shown by the 162,000 jobs created in March.

"But I still have great faith in the federal government to mess it up," he said.

Harris said the early indicators for a recovery in the Wichita economy are positive — it's now a matter of waiting.

Aircraft orders, manufacturing and corporate profits are turning up.

"The global economy is recovering strongly," he said. "But it's still way below where it was two years ago."

Local unemployment will rise again in the summer, as it does every summer, Harris said, but he said he thought it wouldn't equal the revised 10.3 percent from July 2009.

Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, said local employment is following the same pattern as national employment, just months behind.

"If you compare our unemployment and total employment losses to the U.S., we have to be completely at the bottom," Hill said.

Hill said he expects employment and unemployment to remain relatively flat through 2010 and pick up only mildly in 2011.

"We will not have employment reaching 2008 levels for years," Hill said.