Janesville74.2°

Rock County jobless rate decreases

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JAMES P. LEUTE
September 25, 2009
— The Rock County metro area continues to top the state in unemployment.

But the local rate dropped for the second straight month in August, sparking some hopes of a favorable trend.


The area’s August unemployment rate was 12 percent, down from 12.8 percent in July and 13.2 percent in June.


“We hope there’s a trend there,” said Dennis Winters, the state’s chief labor economist. “We’re cautiously optimistic because the numbers are not what we would expect to see at this stage of the business cycle.”


Hiring and drops in unemployment rates typically lag an economic turnaround by nine to 19 months, Winters said.


That’s what makes the recent drop encouraging as the state heads into the fall months when employment numbers stabilize because seasonal fluctuations are gone, he said.


“Rock County has taken one of the hardest hits in state, and it’s going to take time to recover,” Winters said.


The county likely won’t return to its December 2008 unemployment rate of 8.1 percent anytime soon, he said.


“We just don’t know how long it will take because we’re in uncharted territory here, at least post-World War II. But there’s hope because we’re heading in the right direction.”


At 10.2 percent, Racine County was the only other Metropolitan Statistical Area to post double-digit unemployment.


Rock County’s drop of 0.8 percent was the largest among the state’s MSAs. For the sake of its reporting, the state’s Department of Workforce Development classifies the Janesville MSA as including all of Rock County.


Among Wisconsin cities, Beloit had the highest August rate of 17.4 percent, down from 17.7 percent in July but well above the 8.4 percent posted in August 2008.


Janesville had the fourth-highest rate, 13 percent. The July rate was 14.1 percent, while the city had a jobless rate of 7.5 percent in August 2008.


This year dawned with large-scale layoffs in the county’s automotive and manufacturing sectors that have fueled the local unemployment rate.


Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, said local job centers have not seen a significant number of new job postings.


“I’m not sure what to make of the local unemployment numbers,” he said. “I do know that we don’t have enough jobs.”


Borremans said the numbers are moving in the right direction, but he says they can be deceiving.


Jobless rolls typically include people collecting unemployment who are actively looking for work. When their unemployment compensation expires, they may still be looking for work but are no longer included in the jobless figure, Borremans said.


While the Rock County Job Center isn’t posting a lot of new jobs, Borremans said the agency is seeing an increase in word-of-mouth recruitment.”


“It’s a low-key approach,” he said. “Someone hears of a job opportunity and tells a relative or friend.”


The agency recently helped the city of Milton fill one job. More than 300 people applied.


“Some employers, especially small employers, don’t have the resources to go through all those applications, so it’s not a bad strategy for employers to rely on their existing workforce to help fill a few jobs,” he said. “The employers know that their good workers tend to associate with other people who are reliable and dependable.”



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