Missouri’s unemployment rate went up, again, in August. 7.2% now. Something was missing in the Department of Economic Development’s news release. The Department has enjoyed bragging that Missouri’s rate has been beneath the national average for month after month. But the margin has been narrowing as Missouri’s jobless rate keeps climbing while the federal rate keeps dropping. In December, our rate was 6.5%. The national rate was 7.9. The national rate for August was 7.3, just a tenth of a percent above Missouri. Nonetheless, August was the 48th straight month Missouri was below the national average. But our unemployment rate is going up a tenth of a percent a month and it has become something much less to brag about.
We’d love to talk to a department analyst about why Missouri has been losing ground compared to the national trend. But department spokeswoman Amy Susan didn’t return our call until the evening of the day the new numbers were announced. And she still hasn’t returned a call we made yesterday morning.
(She did email a clarifying comment on Thursday: “it’s not unusual for unemployment to increase some during recoveries, even if jobs are being created. In fact, the state’s unemployment rate has ticked up for the past few months. Comparably, we saw an increase in labor force in August and throughout the past year (our workforce has grown by more than 20,900). It would be reasonable to conclude that people are becoming more encouraged by improved labor markets and are either entering or re-entering the workforce.” While we are grateful for the comment, it comes well after the information was “news” and well after the expertise we would like to have access to would have been helpful.)
We’d love to be able to talk to the department director or even to one of the analysts who knows what he’s talking about when we ask questions about this jobless rate growth. Unfortunately, the department is one of those with a “spokesman” or in this case a “spokeswoman” who won’t let us talk to someone within the department who has the expertise in this issue that can tell the Missourians who get information from us what’s really going on.
What is Missouri doing or not doing that has reversed the jobless rate trend that has gone from its lowest rate in four years in December to being two-tenths of a point higher than it was in August, 2012? What is Missouri doing or not doing that has taken us from being 1.4 percentage points below the national average in December to being just one-tenth of a point below it now? What signs are there that might indicate our rate will start dropping again? The department says we’re adding hundreds of jobs a month but our unemployment rate keeps going up. What’s going on here?
Back in the good old days before our state agencies started a pervasive effort to keep reporters from talking to people who actually knew answers to our questions, we used to just dial up a fellow named Bill Niblack, an analyst in the department who could answer every question we asked and whose answers gave us context and depth to the story. We’re not allowed to talk to Bill anymore—we don’t even know if he still works there. He was always a great interview. We enjoyed talking to him because he was always patient and had the ability to explain various facets of the Missouri jobs market in terms laymen such as Missourinet reporters could understand–and listeners, too.
Now we have a press release and a spokeswoman. She’s a nice lady. But it’s the Bill Niblacks of state government who could serve the public best if only they were allowed to do so.