Low jobless rate turns focus to training programs

Posted: Jul. 24, 2014 7:43 pm Updated: Aug. 14, 2014 8:12 pm

By DOUG WILSONHerald-Whig Senior Writer

Another month of low unemployment rates in Western Illinois and Northeast Missouri means employers will need to keep scrambling to find workers.

"We've got a pretty low and stable unemployment rate. That's a good news, bad news thing," Marcel Wagner Jr., president of the Great River Economic Development Foundationn, said.

Wagner sees Adams County's 5 percent jobless rate as a positive. It indicates many employers are stable, but business leaders who fill out surveys indicate they are constantly looking for qualified job candidates.

"Close to 75 percent say they have some needs they haven't gotten filled," Wagner said.

Nationally, the risk of losing your job is getting smaller and smaller.

As the U.S. economy has improved and employers have regained confidence, companies have been steadily shedding fewer workers. Which is why applications for unemployment benefits have dwindled to their lowest level since February 2006 -- nearly two years before the Great Recession began -- the government said Thursday.

The trend means greater job security and suggests a critical turning point in the economic recovery. It raises the hope that workers' pay will finally accelerate after grinding through a sluggish recovery for the past half-decade.

When the economy sank into recession at the end of 2007, employers cut deeply into their staffs. And then during the recovery, they hired only hesitantly. Instead, they sought to maximize the productivity of their existing employees.

But in recent months, the picture has brightened. Employers have added 200,000-plus jobs for five straight months, and the unemployment rate has reached 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008.

Now, the steadily declining level of layoffs suggests that employers may have to hire even more aggressively and raise pay if they want to expand their businesses, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers.

"They've been continually working their workers harder and longer," Naroff said. "As a result of that, we have consistent growth and you can't lay off people anymore."

The consensus forecast of economists is that the government will announce next week that employers added 225,000 jobs in July, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Just 1.58 million people were laid off in May, according to the Labor Department. That was the third-lowest monthly figure since the government began tracking the data in 2001.

Locally, Wagner said programs such as the Workforce Development Center operated by John Wood Community College have been teaching trades and manufacturing skills to help meet the demands of local employers.

Labor market economist Ron Payne of the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Adams County's total number of jobs has risen by 75 so far this year. The biggest job losses have been in the government sector. Service sector jobs and leisure and hospitality jobs each are up 75 since the first of the year. Manufacturing employers have added 65 jobs in that same time period.

Quincy's micropolitan area had a 5.1 percent unemployment rate in June, the lowest among the state's micropolitan areas.

Brown County maintained its lowest-in-the-state jobless rate at 3.5 percent. Dot Foods continues to hire warehouse workers and others at the company headquarters in Mount Sterling.

Northeast Missouri had some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state during June. The Hannibal micropolitan area had the state's lowest jobless rate in that category at 5.3 percent.

Knox County's 3.9 percent unemployment rate was second only to tiny Worth County's 3.8 percent. Scotland and Ralls counties both were below 5 percent, at 4.6 and 4.9 percent respectively.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Unemployment Rates

Location June May Year ago

United States 6.3 6.1 7.8

Illinois 7.1 7.2 9.8

Adams 5.0 4.9 6.6

Brown 3.5 3.3 5.0

Hancock 7.4 7.6 9.3

Pike 5.7 5.8 7.5

Quincy 5.1 4.9 6.4

Missouri 6.6 6.1 6.9

Clark 6.9 7.1 8.5

Knox 3.9 3.5 4.7

Lewis 5.9 5.6 6.7

Marion 5.5 5.1 5.9

Monroe 6.9 5.9 7.2

Pike 5.4 5.0 6.1

Ralls 4.9 4.5 5.1

Scotland 4.6 3.9 5.1

Shelby 6.1 5.4 5.5

Hannibal 5.3 4.9 5.7