Topeka — A wave of school employees returning to work helped push the Kansas unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent in September, state officials said Friday.
The jobless rate fell from 4.7 percent in August and was down from 4.9 percent in September 2005. An economist said the Kansas economy is continuing a positive trend.
"There are several signs that employment is improving in Kansas' manufacturing sector, particularly in aerospace manufacturing," said Inayat Noormohmad, economist at the Kansas Department of Labor. "Growth in the government sector has been influenced by increased hiring in educational institutions."
Much of that hiring is related to the Legislature's passage of $831 million in new school spending over four years. School districts have been hiring additional teachers and staff as a result.
Officials said 25,800 jobs were added in the economy. Over the year, the state added 7,600 jobs - a 0.6 percent increase from September 2005 - with six of 11 industry sectors reporting growth. Government hiring represented 6,000 jobs, primarily in education.
Construction jobs were the leading private-sector source for new employees, rising by 3.2 percent during the year. Manufacturing added 1,800 jobs, a 1 percent gain from the same period in 2005.
The economy has been a central issue in the 2006 gubernatorial race between Republican challenger Jim Barnett and incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Barnett maintains Kansas is lagging behind its neighbors and the national averages in creation of private-sector jobs. He sees a need for targeted tax cuts to stimulate economic development and shore up the state budget.
Sebelius says the economy is improving, citing several indicators and rankings that give Kansas high marks for its business climate. She also says Kansas has taken steps to encourage growth, particularly with a new law that eliminated property taxes on the purchase of new business machinery and equipment.
Labor officials say the economy is recovering from its lows in 2003 and is healthy.
"When looking at a combination of factors, including our jobs report, unemployment data, gross state product and personal income, its obvious the Kansas economy continues to improve," said Jim Garner, Secretary of Labor.
However, critics say the increased government jobs mask stagnant private-sector employment.