Franklin County’s unemployment rate has dropped to almost a six-year low.
The county’s unemployment rate for October and November, the latest data available, was 5.8 percent, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
The last time it was lower than that was December of 2007.
“I believe there is a lot of pent-up demand at our industries in Franklin County,” said Joseph Graves, director of community development for the city of Union. “To supply that demand our industries have had to add people.”
Darren Lamb, economic development director for the city of Washington, said he thinks improvement in the automotive industry has brought more work to area tool and die shops.
“It’s a very, very slow recovery,” Lamb said, noting that 2014 is starting to show some light at the end of the tunnel.
Moreover, Lamb said he thinks people whose unemployment benefits have expired may have been forced to take a job that under utilizes their skills.
Indeed, the new federal budget bill did not include an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which reportedly caused 1.3 million people to lose their benefits at the end of December.
Some unemployed people may no longer be reflected in the rate because their benefits have expired, Graves noted.
But Graves said overall the employment picture is looking better locally. An unemployment rate of about 5 percent represents a fairly healthy economy, he said. He added that he thinks the lower unemployment will stick and possibly go down more.
Existing industries in Union have talked about expansions, and there have been inquires from industries and commercial businesses about locating to the area, Graves said.
“Hopefully, that is a sign we have turned the corner, and that were’ going to continue to grow,” he said.
Lamb does not see a return to the drastic unemployment that the county saw between 2009 and into 2011 when the rates reached double digits, with the highest being 13.2 percent which occurred in January and March of 2011.
The closure of the Fenton Chrysler plants in 2008 and 2009 hurt some Franklin County residents who worked there. And the Harman-Becker plant in Washington closed and took 300 jobs in 2009.
Now, Lamb said, there is starting to be some bounce back in the automotive sector.
In addition, the aerospace industry in Franklin County has shown signs of wanting to diversify into commercial airliners instead of limiting itself to the defense industry, Lamb added. Local employers are trying to stay busy and keep on top of market demand, he noted.
Energy costs are also remaining steady with no sharp increases in gas prices, Lamb said. This could help consumers and businesses.
County unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted to take into account normal fluctuations in hiring that occur through the year. Therefore, it may be more accurate to compare the same months from previous years.
The November 2007 rate was 4.8 percent, which is 1 percent lower than the November 2013 rate.
Franklin County’s November 2013 rate was slightly higher than the state’s rate of 5.5 percent, which is lower than the national rate of 6.6 percent for November.