Jobless rate falls in city and state

Unemployment in the Wichita area fell to 8.2 percent in August, down from 8.5 percent in July and 9.2 percent in August 2009.

The state unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, down from 6.8 percent in July and 7.1 percent in August 2009.

The Wichita-area rate is painfully high, but the trend is clearly positive, say economists.

The Wichita-area rate is likely to fall below 8 percent during the fall because of normal seasonal changes, said Malcolm Harris, an economist and professor at Friends University.

"We've had four straight months where it was better than a year ago," he said. "That indicates a very positive trend, positive that the local economy is in recovery."

Employment lags general economic activity, he said. That means that the Wichita economy probably hit bottom in the winter or spring, between six and 12 months after the U.S. economy reached its low point in June 2009. It's now in recovery, although a slow one.

"It's not aircraft that's pulling us out of this," Harris said. "It's nonaircraft manufacturers and natural resources."

The analysis by state labor economist Yuan Gao was a little less rosy.

He said the survey of Wichita-area employers showed that non-farm jobs in August were down about 1,200 from the same month in 2009.

That means the number of people working in the Wichita area is still shrinking compared to a year ago, he said.

Wichita suffered more heavily than the state as a whole because of its reliance on manufacturing, which was hit harder than other sectors, he said.

But, Gao said, Wichita is also improving more rapidly than the state as a whole.

"Over the year, the unemployment rate went down by 1 (percentage point), from 9.2 to 8.2 percent, which is pretty significant progress," he said. "The state only came down from 7.1 to 6.7 percent. (Wichita has) a higher rate, but the progress is also pretty great, which is a positive sign."

The August rates in other Kansas cities are: the Kansas counties of Kansas City, 7.1 percent; Topeka, 6.8 percent; Lawrence, 6.2 percent; and Manhattan, 5.3 percent.