Local jobless rate soars
It's a spot the area is not likely to relinquish any time soon, local observers predicted.
The Janesville-Beloit metropolitan area lost 2,600 jobs in January to give it an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent. That's more than double the number of unemployed last January.
In December, Janesville-Beloit had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
The recent unemployment figure jumped dramatically because of layoffs at General Motors and supplier companies Lear Corp. and LSI. Most of the workers associated with the December end of sport utility vehicle production started collecting unemployment in January.
As a result of the shutdown, GM laid off 1,253 hourly workers. Lear and LSI laid off 371 and 159, respectively.
Throw in layoffs at several other companies, and the loss of 2,600 jobs is easily accounted for.
"I've said that I thought last year was about a bad as it could get, but we've already had 1,100 dislocations in the first two months of this year," said Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
Local unemployment rates are high and are likely to stay that way for some time, barring a dramatic turnaround in the local economy, said Doug Venable, Janesville's economic development director.
The local rate generally spiked in July, when GM typically shut its plant down for two weeks, Venable said. It also tends to grow in May, June and July, when students inflate the local labor pool.
Borremans said he's seen state projections that put Rock County's annual unemployment rate at 10.3 percent for this year, 10.7 percent for 2010 and 10.1 for 2011.
"We are the only MSA in the state for which they are projecting double-digit unemployment rates for the next three years," he said.
"Unfortunately, we're at a rate that we'd better get comfortable with."
That doesn't mean the county should accept that fate, he said.
"We've got to keep focusing on key driver industries and try to attract some new businesses to town," he said. "We've got some money to help pay for training, but it will definitely take a combined county-wide effort."
While the recent spike arrived earlier in the year than typical, it's not the highest the area has experienced.
Rock County's current unemployment rate of 11.6 is approaching the rates of 12.7 percent and 13.5 percent recorded in August and October 1986, when auto industry troubles were prevalent.
Between July 1981 and July 1983, Rock County consistently averaged an unemployment rate above 10 percent, with the high-water mark coming in March 1982 at 19.3 percent.
Economists and the state's Department of Workforce Development say the numbers for the Janesville-Beloit Metropolitan Statistical Area and Rock County are interchangeable.
With an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent, Janesville-Beloit tops state MSAs. Also with a rate of 11.6 percent, Rock County trails Rusk (12.2 percent), Taylor (12 percent) and Adams (11.7 percent) counties.
In a city-by-city comparison, however, Beloit and Janesville hold two of the top three spots for Wisconsin. Beloit had a January unemployment rate of 15.1 percent, while Janesville checked in with an individual rate of 13.1 percent. Racine was sandwiched between at 13.5 percent.
Other areas of the state felt the pain as well, with unemployment hitting double digits in three other cities: Sheboygan, West Bend and Green Bay.
The statewide unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, up from 5.8 percent a month ago.