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Tough economy taking toll on jobs in Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR -- The sluggish economy has kept the staff of the West Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services busy the last couple years as communities struggle to keep people employed.

Barb Chaffee, CEO of the 11-county entity that includes Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Renville counties, gave the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners an update that paints a complicated picture of the local and regional economy.

As an example of the hunger for jobs, Chaffee said a recent posting for 42 jobs in Hutchinson generated 3,000 applications.

"That is how many people are out of work in this area," she said, adding that many have been out of work for 18 to 24 months.

"Thousands of unemployed workers are experiencing long-term unemployment not seen since the Great Depression," she said.

In her annual report presented Tuesday, Chaffee said the recession "brought a tsunami of unemployed" to workforce centers, like the one in Willmar.

Jobs & Training Services, which helps unemployed get training or find jobs, had 108,000 visits to the west central Minnesota sites compared to 63,000 before the recession began, said Chaffee.

"We've been very busy this year," she said.

Last year the centers served 5,505 adult workers in programs, placed 982 adults in training and served 72 employers across the region with contracts that paid 50 percent of new employees' wages. The program also served thousands of youth in various programs.

Kandiyohi County's median household income fell 8.1 percent from 2008 to 2009, said Chaffee, citing the Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program. That was the 11th largest income drop in the state.

The county's median household income of $46,519 is the 40th highest in the state.

Meeker County's income is 20th highest at $51,811 and Renville County's is 36th at $46,909. The state's median household income is $55,621.

Chaffee highlighted other financial factors, included in a report by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, that are part of the new financial puzzle.

According to the report, the county's population has held steady for the past decade, at 41,392. Despite a nine-tenths of a percent drop from 2007 to 2009, the county ended the decade with an increase of about 200 people, making it the 23rd largest county in the state -- a drop in rank from the 21st largest county that it held in 2000 and 1990.

The people in Kandiyohi County are slightly older than the state as a whole.

According to the report, 16.1 percent of the county residents are 65 and over, compared to 12.5 percent statewide. Chaffee said the good news is that one-third of the county residents are under age 25.

About 38 percent of the county residents are in the prime working age of 25 to 54 years, which is lower than the state rate of 42.7 percent.

The number of home sales declined between 2008 and 2009, "dropping about 10 percent year-over-year," according to the state report, with the median home sale price at $132,900. Home foreclosures saw a 33 percent increase from 2005 to 2009.

A unique aspect to Kandiyohi County residents is that about 86 percent work where they live.

The report says more than 18,100 of the county's 21,000 workers live and work in the county, which is one of the highest rates in the state.

Chaffee also told the board this week that the regional service won several awards this year and had an exceptional financial audit.

She told the commissioners she's concerned that Congress is considering legislation to terminate funding for jobs and training centers.

Chaffee and Commissioner Dennis Peterson, who is on the joint powers board for the Central Minnesota Workforce Center, went to Washington, D.C., recently to meet with the head of the Department of Labor to discuss the need to keep the offices open.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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