EDITORIAL: Joplin marks another milestone

·2 min read

Aug. 4—We hit another milestone recently. We learned this week that the unemployment rate for the two-county Joplin metro area fell to 2.6%, which is the lowest on record going back to at least 1990 and probably long before that.

Pam Regan, with the Missouri Jobs Centers in Joplin and Monett, told us it's a "buyer's market" out there right now, meaning people who want work can find it.

Our previous record was 2.7% set over a period of months in the summer and fall of 2018, and at that time an area economist told us that the rules for getting and keeping a job were pretty simple:

1. Show up to work on time

2. Show up sober.

3. Don't steal from the company.

4. Stay off the phone.

Not a high bar.

Regan also told us that people are walking out of local job fairs with multiple offers.

How quickly things change.

Just a couple of years ago, with the onset of the pandemic, we were hearing predictions of 25% unemployment nationwide — levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Some cities got there, such as Las Vegas. Joplin did spike up at the beginning of the pandemic, but only to 11.1% in April of 2020. That was also a record, the highest we have been in those 32 years, but a year later we had returned to normal.

Regan, by the way, told us she has 941 positions needing workers for more than 500 jobs, most of those in Joplin, but also throughout Southwest Missouri.

The unemployment rate is even lower in nearby communities: Springfield fell to 2.3% in June; Northwest Arkansas was at 2.3% in May and will likely be even lower when their June numbers are revealed.

We've been around long enough to remember when 5.5% was considered "full employment," and some will say that an unemployment rate can become too low, in that it can cause wage inflation or trigger other negative side effects.

There is probably a healthy equilibrium somewhere.

If you can find the economist who can tell us where that balance is, and how to stay there, we'll listen.

Until them, we'll celebrate the news of record unemployment for the Joplin area.