Topeka The Kansas unemployment rate in January rose to 6.4 percent — the highest rate in nearly 26 years and the biggest month-to-month increase in seven years.
In terms of the number of jobless people, the statistics were even more grim. In January, there were 95,812 unemployed Kansans, 31 percent more than the 73,131 without jobs in December.
Last month, more than 2,000 people sought services at the Lawrence Workforce Center, according to Cheryl White, a supervisor there. That is about 500 more than previous months, she said. “Our traffic right now is very high,” she said.
Andy Craig, 44, said he recently lost his job at an architectural firm in Lawrence and was out of work for the first time since high school. But, he said, he was lucky to land another job.
“It took me a couple of months. You hear about some people going months and months without a job, but I couldn’t have done that. I would have gone crazy,” Craig said.
The increased unemployment rate reflects deepening economic troubles, officials said.
“While a portion of this increase is seasonal, we are now seeing a more pronounced slowdown of the labor market in Kansas,” said state Department of Labor economist Tyler Tenbrink.
The January unemployment rate of 6.4 percent was the highest since June 1983. And it was 1.5 percentage points more than the December rate of 4.9 percent. The last time there was that big an increase going from month to month was December 2001 to January 2002 when the unemployment rate went from 4.2 percent to 5.7 percent, the labor department reported.
The unemployment rate for January 2008 was 4.3 percent.
The 6.4 percent statewide rate remains below the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
Douglas County, however, had the lowest unemployment rate of any of the state’s metropolitan areas at 5.3 percent. The Kansas City, Kan., area had a jobless rate of 8 percent; the Topeka area, 6.6 percent; and the Wichita area, 5.8 percent.
Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Jim Garner said the increase wasn’t surprising, given the increasing number of people filing jobless claims.
There were 26,744 initial claims for unemployment benefits in January, and 37,482 in December, compared with 13,542 in January 2008.
“While I expect the situation to get worse before it gets better, we are fortunate to have additional assistance available to unemployed workers through the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Garner said.
Through the federal stimulus package, the state has started distributing an additional $25 per week to people receiving unemployment benefits. In addition, thousands of Kansans who are unemployed are eligible to receive up to 20 weeks of extended benefits.
The state report showing February unemployment figures will be released March 27.