Sep. 18—The news from Range Line is worth celebrating.
It wasn't so long ago — spring of 2020 — that experts feared the worst: Unemployment could climb to 20% or more, to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
It was clear quickly that such fears were overblown. The two-county Joplin metro area peaked at more than half of that in April 2020, when unemployment hit 12.9%, which was plenty high, but it has fallen steadily since, and in July, unemployment in Joplin was 2.5%.
That's a record low, at least according to data going back 30 years compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
We recognize that the unemployment number is not a perfect indicator, in that people who have given up looking for work are not counted, but this is clearly a worker's economy, and locally, employers are going begging.
Our own survey up and down Range Line last week found dozens of places that are hiring.
Around the region, thousands of employers are looking for workers. Asked about the local jobs environment, Pam Regan, at the Missouri Job Center-Joplin, told us: "We have 10,000 job orders. That means there are 10,000 openings in Joplin and the counties surrounding Joplin. They're not all in Joplin. These are from as far away as Carthage, Anderson, Cassville, Mount Vernon, Monett and other cities. We have a seven-county area we cover."
Jason Elkins, manager of Meek's, told us he has not seen a worker environment like this in his career. Dalton Williams, a manager at the Gringos restaurants in Joplin and Webb City, said they are hurting for employees, and the lack of workers has forced the company to cut back on the hours its two restaurants are open. A local manufacturer that has been investing in its operations, the Schaeffler Group, told us they are looking to increase employment by 20%.
"We started this initiative early in this calendar year, and honestly we've just struggled to even get people to apply," company officials told us, calling the situation "unprecedented," and adding: "As you saw by the number of hiring signs, there are literally thousands of jobs in the Joplin area and not enough people to fill them."
We recognize that there are reasons some people have pulled out of the job hunt, as COVID-19 is still a real threat, and the best thing we can do for our economy is to get vaccinated, but there's no need to extend federal pandemic unemployment through next February, as some in Congress are now pushing.
At least, that's not the view from Range Line.