The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 12, 2012

Unemployment falls 2.8 percent in Joplin since storm

— While cities across the country struggle with unemployment rates of 12 percent and higher, Joplin now stands at half that level, according to the latest federal numbers.

The city also is being recognized for the improvement it has made in reducing unemployment during the past year.

Jobs tied to recovery and rebuilding following last year’s tornado explain part, but not all, of the improvement in job conditions in Joplin, according to several local experts.

In June, Joplin’s unemployment rate hit 6.1 percent, down from 8.9 percent when compared with June of last year, in the immediate aftermath of the tornado that damaged or destroyed more than 500 businesses. Among the casualties were major employers, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter and St. John’s Regional Medical Center. Those two, along many other employers, vowed to keep employees on the payroll while they rebuilt, but not every business could do that and many people lost jobs as well as their homes.

While most metropolitan areas reported a drop in unemployment from June 2011 to June 2012, no city among the nation’s 372 defined metropolitan areas fared better than Joplin, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The largest over-the-year unemployment rate decrease in June was registered in Joplin, Mo. (-2.8 percentage points),” the federal agency reported earlier this month.

Gary Steinberg, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said the same thing happened in metropolitan areas along the Gulf Coast that were helped by rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Joplin’s unemployment rate in June at 6.1 percent is better than the 6.6 percent reported in May 2011, before the tornado, and indicates the city is making progress in the one area of economic recovery that has proven elusive for much of the rest of the country during the recession.

“It is very good news for us,” said Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. He also noted that while unemployment has come down, the size of the labor force in the area has grown by about 4,000 people.

Mike Wiggins, owner of two Granny Shaffer’s restaurants in Joplin, isn’t surprised by the news.

“When we put the ‘Help Wanted’ sign up we don’t see the line we used to see,” he said.

Where he used to get 100 applications for openings, he said he now gets 20 to 25.

“It’s a little tight trying to find the skill-level people,” he said.

In the aftermath of the storm that wiped out IHOP and about two dozen other restaurants, Wiggins said he was able to hire some of those workers who were unemployed. But as those restaurants reopened — he specifically cited IHOP and Jim Bob’s — some of those employees are planning on returning to their old jobs.

But other restaurants also are coming to Joplin, such as Longhorn Steakhouse, further tightening up the labor pool, and that has nothing to do with the tornado, he noted.

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