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Wadena County unemployment at 7.6 percent, ties national rate

Pictured is Pam Chick, job counselor at Minnesota Workforce Center, at a desk Wednesday. Chick’s job may be a bit easier now that unemployment in Wadena County has fallen to 7.6 percent as of December. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

The latest jobs numbers from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) have local officials talking optimistically about the economic future of Wadena County.

The unemployment rate for the county in December 2012 was 7.6 percent, down from 8.2 percent for the same month in 2011 and 10.5 percent in 2010. The national unemployment rate in December was also 7.6 percent.

“There’s no question that the drop that we’ve seen in the published percentage each month is really good news,” said Paul Sailer, director of Wadena County Human Services.

Members of the Wadena County Board of Commissioners also felt encouraged by the statistics. Commissioner Bill Stearns theorized that the drop may be a result of better times among Wadena farmers.

“Agriculture’s at an all-time high,” Stearns said. “This is an agriculture area, so as farmers plant more and more and harvest more, you’re going to have more jobs in town…”

Commissioner Jim Hofer agreed an increase in farming activity was a factor in the unemployment drop, and added several other local sectors may have helped, including construction, health care and schools. However, both Hofer and Stearns were wary of the effects federal sequester cuts may have on future unemployment numbers.

“As there’s less flow of federal dollars, I’m sure it’s going to impact those numbers someplace, somewhere, somehow,” Hofer said. “I don’t even think Washington knows for sure.”

Another gloomy detail is the fact that DEED’s unemployment numbers don’t reflect the exact amount of unemployed people in the county, but just the number of people who file for unemployment benefits, Sailer said. For example, if someone had been on unemployment benefits for so long that they were no longer able to receive them, the person wouldn’t be counted in the unemployment rate.

“There is a percentage of people who aren’t showing up in the number, so we do have to keep that in mind,” Sailer said. “Anyone who works in the field of employment or any kind of human services recognizes there are those who no longer show up in the numbers. They’re probably not a large percentage, but there’s clearly some people who aren’t showing up in the number anymore.”

Pam Chick, a job counselor at the Minnesota Workforce Center in Wadena, works to help the people that make up unemployment statistics.  Chick said many of the jobless people she assists attempt to get additional training or education before they re-enter the workforce. For example, she recalled a drafter who lost her job because of decline in lumber demand and became a radiology technologist after additional schooling. However, Chick said in some cases it takes a support network for someone to get a more marketable education.

“It really depends on their situation. Everything is going to be different for every family, where monetarily you’ve got to have money coming in,” she said.

Chick said the disparity between the county unemployment rate from several years ago and today was due to an economic situation that’s stabilized since the period that saw extensive layoffs from companies like Lund Boats and Homecrest, combined with the effects of the 2010 tornado that moved through Wadena.

“I think people aren’t as nervous about hiring again,” she said.

To see more employment statistics for Wadena County, Minnesota and the U.S., visit DEED’s website at