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By Robert Maharry, Times Republican

Marshall County now has the highest unemployment rate in the state and is the only county in Iowa where the figure is over 10 percent, according to January numbers from Iowa Workforce Development (IWD).

The numbers are concerning to local officials as the unemployment rate had dropped as low as 3.9 percent in September but increased to 4.4 percent in October, 4.8 percent in November and 6.9 percent in December before ultimately surging to 10.4 percent in January. Clayton County (8.1 percent) and Crawford County (seven percent) had the next highest rates in Iowa.

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Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO John Hall said he was somewhat surprised by the spike but attributed it to two primary factors — the seasonality of construction trades and the closure of TPI Composites in Newton, which drew about 30 percent of its workforce from Marshall County.

“That had some pretty significant impact into our market from folks that got laid off at the end of the year,” Hall said. “So I would say those were the two major factors contributing to this major spike.”

Hall also said there may be some “issues” with the way the data reads as it shows that the total labor force grew by 700 people, and the number of unemployed individuals rose by 690.

“I can say with some pretty high levels of certainty that we didn’t have 700 new people join our labor force that reside here in Marshall County in that one month period,” he said. “So we’re still trying to parse the data apart, and while I don’t know if the unemployment rate will actually come down, there are some data points that we need to clarify.”

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Nonetheless, Hall acknowledged that Marshall County’s unemployment rate has generally trended higher than the rest of the state, and it tends to increase during the winter months. Citing the widespread availability of good paying jobs in the current market, he suggested legislative changes to encourage more people to return to the workforce.

“We need to do something to get those folks back to work,” he said before discussing a recent job fair for former employees of TPI. “There were great equivalent jobs to be taken, and if folks are choosing to not take those opportunities and instead rest on unemployment for one reason or another, we need to get some reforms in place to address that… We need to find better solutions to these problems.”

A representative from the local IWD office in Marshalltown referred a request for comment to the statewide public information officer, Jesse Dougherty, who also cited the twin factors of the TPI closure and the seasonal nature of construction work. Moreover, he added, the numbers may look surprising because many labor statistics were revised earlier this week as part of an annual benchmarking required by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“This is an annual process, but some of the adjustments were larger than normal this time,” Dougherty said. “Essentially, the adjustments added more people to Iowa’s base population in certain months, thereby impacting statistics such as the unemployment rate and labor force participation. In most cases, the updated numbers still show the same overall trend lines in unemployment and labor force. However, a trend line obviously is going to be impacted by a major layoff event.”

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The full unemployment reports are available at https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/local-area-unemployment-statistics.

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Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or

[email protected]

PHOTO VIA WHO 13 NEWS — The closure of TPI Composites in Newton, pictured, is seen as a key driver of the recent unemployment spike in Marshall County.

A graphic from Iowa Workforce Development shows the unemployment rates in each county as of January 2022. Marshall County, at 10.4 percent, is currently the highest.

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