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Worst may be over for local economy but questions remain

Updated monthly statistics on the economy of Wadena County were released Dec. 20.

Recently released Wadena County statistics are showing some recent improvement and the worst seems to be over, said Paul Sailer of Wadena County Social Services.

The Wadena County unemployment rate for November peaked in 2009 at 9.6 percent, went down to 8.3 percent in 2010 and was down further to 7.4 percent in 2011.

Sailer said, however, that these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, and are calculated by people specifically receiving unemployment benefits. It is not a general survey of who is out of work.

"What makes these numbers a little bit questionable, though, is that some people may have run out of their unemployment extensions, so it's possible there are people that are not employed that no longer are recorded as such," he said.

The numbers do not include people whose unemployment benefits ran out. Neither do they include people whose previous jobs did not qualify them for unemployment insurance to begin with, or recent graduates trying to get their foot in the door.

"The unemployment statistics that DEED has are showing those who are receiving unemployment compensation," Sailer said.

The November food support caseload steadily ballooned in from 453 total households in 2007 to 816 households in 2011.

Medical assistance has also risen from 1,505 total households in November 2007 to 1,705 total households in November 2011.

Unduplicated cases of family emergency assistance rose consistently over the five years, from 1,551 in November 2007 to 1,819 in November 2011.

However, in 2011, the food support and Minnesota Supplemental Aid caseloads decreased slightly each month between August and November.

"It would appear from these statistics that things are getting a little bit better," Sailer said. "Normally in the winter like this, we see our highest unemployment rates and our highest use of programs, but just this four-month look-back, things are fairly level if not decreasing."

For the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) and Diversionary Work Program, the November caseload peaked in 2010.

Sailer said the economy seems to be better this year than the same time last year.

"I think there's a little more sense of optimism that we're turning the corner," he said.