While it's true that North Dakota's unemployment rate recorded a 50 percent increase from December 2008 to January 2009, that is only half the story.
"Half of the (18,000) unemployed in the state for the month were seasonally expected," said Maren Daley, executive director of Job Service North Dakota. "Beyond that, the higher than normal unemployment has been the result of a ripple effect which started in the manufacturing sector, and then affected their vendors, marketing, financial and so forth."
In a report released Wednesday by the United States Department of Labor, North Dakota's unemployment rate not seasonally adjusted was 5.1 percent for January, up 1.7 percent from December's 3.4 percent.
For labor analysts in North Dakota, this is normal.
"Historically, January rates have always increased about one percent, which is purely seasonal because construction, mining and some manufacturers do layoffs at roughly the same time," said Michael Zeisch, research analyst for Job Service.
He added that beyond that one percent, the slightly above-normal unemployment figures the state has experienced recently is due to the hit endured by the larger local companies with global exposure such as Bobcat and Case IH which forced nearly 1,500 layoffs as well as the slowdown in the oil and gas exploration industry, which in turn negatively affected their support services.
"All industries in the state have (employment) seasonality. January and February are historically the highest unemployment months because of the mining and manufacturing layoffs while in September and October we see employment peaks because construction and everyone else are working like heck to get everything done," Zeisch said.
Although the February unemployment figures have yet to be released, Ziesch said he anticipates them to be similar to those of January, elevated to above-normal figures by the lingering effects of the temporary layoffs by Bobcat and Case IH and the overall economy.
While North Dakota's heightened unadjusted unemployment rate of 5.1 compares favorably to the to the national unadjusted rate of 8.5 percent, the negative effects are still palpable.
"It's easy to sit back and say we are insulated from the rest of the nation, but that doesn't make the person who was just laid off probably for the first time in their career feel any better," Zeisch said, "but North Dakota businesses are working very hard to retain their quality employees because they realize that when the (economic) situation turns around, there will be a tight labor market and they will be fighting for quality employees."
As to that end, "we are cautiously optimistic, but we are not out of the woods yet," Daley said. "What I want to hear is the manufacturers saying their orders have picked up and I want to see construction pick up this spring. With the money for road improvements coming from the stimulus package, I think it will help put them back to work."