Jobs outlook shining brighter
Chris Smith was an unemployed carpenter for about two years before he started getting work again last spring.
Construction jobs have become more regular in recent months, and Smith said Thursday that he's working steadily at 40 hours a week.
"I was real happy. I was just really getting tired of sitting around," said Smith of Beloit, who is working commercial and residential jobs, mostly in Madison with Tradesman International.
Smith represents one tiny bit of data in this area's annual unemployment rate, a rate that likely will end the year at its lowest point in four years.
The annual rate for the Janesville-Beloit area is likely to be lower than in 2009, 2010 or 2011, even though unemployment ticked up from October to November, 7.1 percent to 7.7 percent.
The state released November's statistics Thursday.
Barring a drastic change in December's figures, it looks as though the area will finish the year with its lowest unemployment figure since 2008, said Bob Borremans, CEO of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
"Conditions are getting better. I'm pretty optimistic that things will continue to get better going into 2013," Borremans said.
That doesn't mean things have returned to pre-recession levels, Borremans cautioned.
One cautionary statistic is the number of people with jobs.
In Janesville in November 2008, 30,658 people were employed, and the unemployment rate was 8.7 percent, Borremans said.
The city's unemployment rate this November was 8.3 percent, but the number of people working was 29,445.
Even so, things improved here during 2012. The number of people employed in Janesville in 2011 was just 21,841.
Janesville's November unemployment rate was seventh-highest among 32 cities in the state. Beloit was second-highest at 10.1 percent. Highest was Racine, 11.5 percent.
On a county basis, Rock ranked 18th at 7.7 percent, up from 7.1 percent in October. Walworth County was 37th at 6.5 percent, up from 5.7 percent in October.
Borremans sees more people returning to the workforce and employment increases in certain sectors, including health care and manufacturing.
"Those are all very, very positive signs that things are beginning to turn around and beginning to improve, and I see nothing that would change that," Borremans said.
A possible exception, he said, is the looming fiscal cliff.
Smith said he's making $1 or $2 less an hour than he did before, but he had built up seniority with his previous employer.
"I'm really happy with what I'm getting," he said,
Some might think most returning workers have to settle for less, but that's not necessarily so.
In fact, Borremans said, dislocated workers who use the Rock County Job Center and returned to work between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, are making an average $16,786 more per year than they did when they were laid off.
Borremans said that figure amazed him, but he said it comes from the state Department of Workforce Development, based on wage records reported to the federal unemployment benefits system.
People's confidence that they will continue to be employed might also be improving. Borremans said 94 percent of dislocated workers who got jobs this past year continue to work at those jobs.
Smith added this to the statistics: "I talked to the boss just this morning, and he said they have a lot of work lined up, so I'm really happy about that."
Smith gave a shout-out to his caseworker at the Job Center, Kris Case, who was more than helpful and "a sweetheart."