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Jobless rate spikes in S.D.

MITCHELL, S.D. - More people were listed as unemployed in January in Mitchell than any time since March 2011.

There were 390 people looking for work who could not find jobs in the city, according to statistics from the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. That's a higher figure than any month since the third month of 2011, when 465 people were out of work.

The unemployment rate in Mitchell was 4.4 percent in January, the highest it has been since March 2011, when it was 5.3 percent.

The Labor Department released employment statistics Monday. They showed that unemployment increased in Mitchell in January compared to the previous month, and at a greater rate than the December-January period a year ago.

This January's unemployment rate in Mitchell is up nearly a full point from 3.5 percent in December. It's also higher than it was in January 2012, when 335 people were listed as unemployed, a rate of 3.9 percent.

Melodee Lane, an information supervisor for the state Labor Market Information Center, said in an email response that the figures represent "a seasonal trend of rising unemployment that runs from December through February."

Lane said a study of unemployment rates for Davison and Hanson counties for January, going back to 2007, point to the continuance of a pattern.

"Unemployment and the unemployment rate generally begin increasing in December and continue rising through February," she said in the email. "As you pointed out, this year's December to January rise in unemployment was higher than last year's increase for the same timeframe. However, looking back at previous years shows this year's over-the-month increase was not atypical.

"Last year, the unemployment increase began earlier, between November and December, so the December to January increase wasn't as large as normal."

She said timelines also play a role.

"It makes a big difference when employment increases or decreases happen in relationship to the reference week of the 12th of each month -- which is the timeframe for which the labor force statistical program focuses on for employment data," Lane said. "If a layoff happens after the reference week it will not be incorporated into the estimates until the following month."

She said winter weather conditions "also play a huge role" in determining when seasonal layoffs occur.

Mitchell's rate corresponded with state and national trends. The comparable, non-seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate spiked from 4.5 percent to 5 percent in December-January, and the national rate rose from 7.6 percent to 8.5 percent.

The total labor force always shrinks this time of year, as people who take jobs during the holiday season leave work and don't seek unemployment insurance, according to Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bryan Hisel, who also heads the Mitchell Area Development Corp.

The labor force in Mitchell was listed as 8,810 in January, down from 9,035 in December.

"That's generally our slowest time," Hisel said of January's employment figure.

He said he had no sweeping theory to explain the job figures for the opening of 2013, but did offer some ideas.

"I think nationally, the economy is trending upward," Hisel said. "Locally, there is still some wait and see."

The hospitality business, food service and other occupations that often hire people on a seasonal basis are at their lowest in January, he said.

Mayor Ken Tracy said he is not too concerned about the number.

"I guess it's just a blip in the road right now," Tracy said.

He said once spring weather arrives, and construction projects open in the city, unemployment figures will drop.