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Craig McEwen, Published March 12 2009

6,000 more jobless in North Dakota

Unemployment jumps 50 percent

About 6,000 more North Dakota workers found themselves jobless in January as the state’s unemployment rate jumped 50 percent in one month.

Statistics released Wednesday show that the number of unemployed climbed to 18,526 in January, marking the first time in 15 years that North Dakota’s unemployment rate surpassed 5 percent, said Michael Ziesch, a Job Service North Dakota research analyst in Bismarck.

January’s nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 5.1 percent compared to 3.4 percent in December, when 12,273 workers were unemployed, said Maren Daley, Job Service North Dakota executive director.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in January, when 20,700 workers were idled, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The Minnesota agency announced in February that the state lost 75,000 jobs over the past year.

The latest North Dakota layoffs are widespread but most visible among larger companies, Ziesch said. They include recent temporary layoffs at Bobcat and some of its vendors involving 1,500 workers.

“It seems like the players that have national and global contracts are being affected regardless of what they did right or wrong,” Ziesch said.

“There have been a handful of smaller layoffs and even a couple of closures,” he said.

North Dakota is no longer immune to the effects of a declining national economy, he said.

“We’re still in considerably better shape than the nation as a whole,” Ziesch said.

North Dakota’s 5.1 percent unemployment rate compares favorably to the nation’s

8.5 percent unadjusted rate, Daley said.

“This isn’t a historic high by any stretch,” Ziesch said of the North Dakota rate. “The most recent period where we had a rate in January that was in that range was about 1994.”

North Dakota’s highest unemployment rate since 1976 was 8.1 percent in March 1983 and the lowest was 1.7 percent in October 1997, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

“We’re certainly not trying to downplay the fact that there are North Dakotans that are unemployed for the first time in many years,” Ziesch said. “That’s certainly serious business.”

“Clearly, the national economy is having an impact on North Dakota,” said Don Canton, spokes-man for Gov. John Hoeven.

“Now more than ever, it’s clear that aggressive economic development, which we’ve built into our budget, is important,” Canton said.

“The work that we’ve done to grow and diversify the economy over the years, I think, has helped to prevent the kind of impacts that the nation is seeing.”

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502