Topeka Kansas unemployment rose to 6.9 percent in May, although one state official saw hope in fewer first-time jobless claims filed.
The May unemployment rate compared to a revised 6.2 percent in April and 4.1 percent for the same period a year ago, the state Department of Labor said Friday. The 6.9 percent amounts to 104,790 people out of work.
But a state labor economist said conditions may be improving because the number of first-time unemployment claims dropped 6,400 to about 20,300 in May from April.
“I think those do indicate some indication of leveling off,” economist Inayat Noormohmad said.
The Kansas economy has shed some 39,100 jobs over the past 12 months, according to state estimates.
While some Kansans have run out of state benefits and are entering federal jobless programs, the four-week average for initial jobless claims indicates others may be finding work, Noormohmad said.
The economic downturn has been particularly hard on construction and manufacturing in Topeka, Kansas City and Wichita, Noormohmad said. Friday’s figures showed the construction industry adding 800 jobs, but state labor officials say most of those were seasonal work.
Unemployment continues to be highest in southeast Kansas, which has historically had higher jobless rates than other regions and continues to see a loss of manufacturing jobs. Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas is tied with Kansas City for the state’s highest unemployment rate at 10.7 percent.
Overall, the six Kansas counties in the state’s portion of the Kansas City metro area have 7.2 percent unemployment.
Government jobs increased by 3,700 jobs from April to May, with gains attributed to local governments hiring outdoor maintenance and swimming pool workers for the summer season.
Kansas was notified Thursday that it would receive $69 million in federal stimulus money to boost its unemployment trust fund, which pays benefits to those out of work. Kansans can receive 26 weeks of state benefits and then become eligible for federal benefits for up to another 33 weeks.
The state also has received money for highway and other projects to create jobs.
Labor spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes said Friday it was too early to tell the full impact of federal stimulus spending but $35 million in extended unemployment benefits has gone into the economy since April as people pay their bills or buy groceries and other items.
“That’s supporting somebody’s job,” she said.