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Unemployment keeps falling in Northland

The Duluth area had one of the lowest unemployment rates of this century in September as just 3.7 percent of people looking for a job did not have one.

The Duluth area had one of the lowest unemployment rates of this century in September as just 3.7 percent of people looking for a job did not have one.

That was the jobless rate across St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties last month, the Department of Employment and Economic Development reported Tuesday. In Duluth alone the unemployment rate was 3.4 percent while other cities in the area all had rates below 5 percent.

"Across the board we've hit very low unemployment rates for September," said Erik White, regional labor analyst at DEED. "There was also a record high number of job vacancies reported for the region - close to 10,000."

Of those vacancies in the broader seven-county Arrowhead region, however, about 70 percent are part-time positions. White noted in the wake of Tuesday's announced layoffs at the Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids that similar jobs will be hard to come by, and the layoffs will have ripple effects on logging jobs as well.

"Those were really high-paying jobs for the region and include benefits - despite the fact there are job vacancies, there aren't the vacancies with those types of wages and benefits," he said.

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More than two-thirds of the vacancies for the first half of the year were in health care, building and grounds maintenance, food service and retail positions with wages ranging from $10 to $14 an hour, DEED data shows.

Jobs in the Duluth area grew only slightly between August and September - a drop in most sectors was offset by school starting up again - though year over year thousands more people are now collecting paychecks.

Hibbing hit a three-year low of 4.8 percent unemployment last month, while Virginia's rate fell to 4.3 percent. In Cloquet the jobless rate was 4.2 percent.

Minnesota hit a longtime low in statewide unemployment at 2.9 percent last month, while Wisconsin's was 3 percent. Nationally the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in September.

As winter approaches, those numbers will likely start to climb again.

Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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