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Jobless rate inched higher in February across central Minnesota

Jobless rates for February inched higher — following a traditional winter pattern — before dropping with the onset of spring and summer employment increases.

The most recent jobless rate for the most populous city in Crow Wing County, means out of a labor force of 7,481 people, there are 1,080 without work.

Brainerd’s jobless rate was 14.4 percent in February, up slightly from January’s 14.1 percent. But it’s an improvement from the 17.5 percent jobless rate in February of 2011 and the 19.6 percent jobless rate for February 2010, or the 20.7 percent jobless rate in February of 2009.

Before the Great Recession, in 2006 for example, the jobless rate in Brainerd ranged from 11.1 percent in February to 5.7 percent in August.

Brainerd continues its reign as the city with the highest unemployment in the state for cities with populations of 10,000 or more. Bemidji came in with 13.5 percent. Grand Rapids had 11.7 percent. All of those cities have strong seasonal employment shifts. No other large city in the state reached double-digit levels. Many had jobless rates in the 4-7 percent range.

Brainerd has a population of 13,590, according to the 2010 census. A significant population, more than 5,000 people, resides to the north and west of the city limits in Unorganized Territory. Baxter, which begins where Brainerd leaves off on its western edge, has 7,610 residents. Brainerd’s lower cost of housing, meaning it is more affordable to live in for residents who earn less, has been listed by analysts as a factor in its top jobless rate. But it remains stubbornly high, even compared to rivals for that dubious perch.

The Brainerd micropolitan also ticked up a little from 10 percent in January to 10.2 percent in February. The micropolitan covers Cass and Crow Wing counties.

Looking back at trends in the micropolitan going back to 2003, the jobless rate first reached double digits in December of 2008. By February of 2009, the jobless rate was 13 percent but it retreated to single digits with summer demand to fill jobs. By February of 2010, the rate climbed back to 12.6 percent. Last year, the rate was 11.6 percent in February. On the positive side, the micropolitan’s numbers would indicate the rates are not rising as high each year as the recession falls farther in the rearview mirror. In Minnesota, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 5.7 percent in February, a slight increase compared to January. The nation’s rate was 8.3 percent, unchanged from January and less than December. Nationally, that equals to 12.8 million people out of work from a labor force of 154,871,000.

In the seven-county area, the jobless rate rose — at least slightly — between January and February in all but Cass County. An increase in jobless rates isn’t unusual during the winter months before things start to head the other way with spring, typically falling in March.

Across the counties, the jobless rates for February — in almost all cases — was less than those recorded for the same time in 2011. And 2011 was less than 2010, which was less than 2009. The counties jobless rates in February of 2009 ranged from 11.5 percent to 15.4 percent.

In Aitkin County, the jobless rate inched its way up to 10 percent in February compared to 10 percent in January.

Cass County actually dropped from 11.6 percent in January to 11.5 percent in February.

Crow Wing County rose from 9.4 percent in January to 9.7 percent in February.

Mille Lacs County climbed to 12.1 percent in February compared to the previous month with 11.6 percent.

Morrison County rose to 9.6 percent in February, just slightly higher than the 9.4 percent in January. Todd County ticked up to 8 percent in February compared to 7.7 percent a month earlier. Wadena County climbed back into double-digits for the first time in 10 months reaching a jobless rate of 10.5 percent compared to 9.8 percent in January.

The labor force across the seven-county area numbers 103,362 people. Out of that labor force, there were 10,408 people without jobs in February.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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