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A thawing of the Great Recession?

Times are still hard but the worst of the recession's effects on the job market are over, according to the Minnesota WorkForce Center of Wadena and the Wadena County Social Services.

The Wadena County unemployment rate stands at 10.8 percent as of December 2010, according to the Wadena County Human Services recession statistics, which was better than the same time of the year in 2008, when it stood at 11.3 percent.

Pete Svendsen of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said that even though there are still more job seekers than available jobs, there were also more job openings than during the worst of the recession.

Darla Hoemberg, team leader for Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Programs (CEP), and Svendsen said that the WorkForce Center helps job seekers find employment and helps employers find qualified workers. The center, which was started in Wadena in November 1997, has had more traffic since the recession.

Hoemberg said that some workers hadn't needed to apply for new jobs for 20 or 30 years, and that the online applications were different from when they got their previous job on a handshake.

Svendsen contacts local employers and posts job openings on the state job bank MinnesotaWorks.Net.

Hoemberg said it was important to search both Internet and newspaper job listings, improve networking skills and find hidden jobs - jobs that are not publicly posted.

The WorkForce Center recently had a job fair with the Work Connection staffing agency. Hoemberg and Svendsen said the building hosts job fairs often and offers many other resources for job seekers in the area without cost.

Minnesota WorkForce Center has many other locations throughout the state, and on Wednesday, Alexandria Technical and Community College will host the Greater Alexandria Area Job Resource Fair at the law enforcement gymnasium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Representatives from more than 33 employers will be there, and job seekers are encouraged to bring their resumes.

The WorkForce Center has a resource room with computers that people can use for job searching, career information, resume writing and fax service.

"They can walk out of here with a completed resume," Hoemberg said.

Help with filling out online applications is available, along with job search classes, job clubs, mock interviews and one on one resume assistance.

The WorkForce Center is also partnered with State Services for the Blind, Rehabilitation Services, Veterans Representation and Rural Minnesota CEP.

"For the common customer, they don't have to come in and ask for the right person. They can just go to the front desk and say, 'I need help with this.' We'll get them to the right person," Svendsen said.

"[Employers] think it's a good central location," Hoemberg said. "When available, we have interview rooms."

A new service being introduced at Minnesota WorkForce Center of Wadena is the National Career Readiness Certificate and the WorkKeys job skills assessment system which measures four areas including communication skills such as business writing and reading information, problem-solving skills such as applied mathematics and technology, interpersonal skills and personal skills.

The assessment and certificate are products of ACT, which is best known for the college-bound standardized test of the same name.

Svendsen and Hoemberg said the test is a good tool for both job seekers and employers. The WorkForce Center registers and proctors the test.

Paul Sailer of Wadena County Human Services said that Wadena County has a significantly higher unemployment rate than the state average, which is 7 percent. He said it has been that way since he started in 1976, and has seen four recessions.

In 1976, he said, there were four car dealerships, two of which were lost in the early 1980s recession. Now, there are none.

Statistics from Wadena County Human Services show that area households continue to struggle a year and a half after summer 2009 which was declared to be the official end of the Great Recession.

"People that aren't used to being on public programs lost their jobs and were forced onto medical programs and food support programs," Sailer said.

Food support in December 2010 was at 762 total households, the highest level for the last five years, with the lowest level during the same month being 2007 with 433 households.

December also saw the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) and Diversionary Work Program at its highest for the five-year period with 138 households, with the lowest at being 2007 with 103 households.

However, other statistics suggest the worst is over.

In December of the last five years, Medical Assistance and General Assistance Medical Care peaked in 2009 with 1,666 households. The 2010 level was 1,560.

Family emergency assistance peaked in 2008 with $35,282 spent. 2010 was the second highest of the five years with $29,336 spent to date. 2006 was the lowest of the five years with $25,437 spent.

For unduplicated cases, 2009 saw the highest level at 1,770, slightly higher than 2010 which was 1,758.

In statistics between October 2009 and December 2010, statistics of non-custodial parents receiving unemployment benefits within the child support caseload peaked in January 2010 at 101. The lowest number was 37 in September 2010. In 2009 the numbers for October, November and December were 53, 65 and 88, respectively, compared to 38, 46 and 51 for the same months in 2010.

Sailer said the statistics change from month to month because of the availability of seasonal work being lower in the winter.

He said that many of the statistics on poverty and assistance are due to the high number of Wadena seniors living on a fixed income.

Besides unemployment, underemployment is a factor in the recession.

"If somebody goes from working full-time to part-time, they may lose their health benefit or they may lose enough income that they need food support," Sailer said.

The Minnesota Workforce Center and Wadena County Social Services share the same building, 124 1st St SE.