Jobless rate nearly doubles

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

The unemployment rate in Roosevelt County has almost doubled compared to a little more than a year ago, and officials are blaming hard times in the dairy business.

Matt Barela, co-manager of the Curry County Workforce Connections office and spokesman for the Roosevelt County office, said Roosevelt County unemployment was 5.5 percent in December 2009, up from the normal rate of 2.8 percent in December 2008.

“A lot of it had to do with the dairies and layoffs,” he said.

Barela also said the approximately 75 employees laid off from Western Dairy Transport milk hauling business contributed to the rate.

Greg Fisher, Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation executive director, agreed with Barela about the doubled unemployment rate.

“And that has a lot to do with local dairy prices, the national credit crunch and the ripple effect on local businesses,” he said.

However, Fisher said, Roosevelt County’s unemployment rate is still a third less than the rate statewide and half of the national unemployment rate.

Fisher expects unemployment in the county to remain around 5 percent until the credit market loosens and big-ticket spending recovers in hard-hit industries such as dairies.

Barela said unemployment would stay at its current level for a while. He expected to learn more about the future rate in the spring, when dairies and other agricultural pursuits pick up.

Also, Barela said Roosevelt County’s unemployment rate is higher that Curry County’s rate, which is unusual. Curry has 5.1 percent unemployment, compared to the typical rate of 2.9 percent a year ago.

“So we are getting some kind of economic strains around the area,” he said.

There aren’t enough jobs for agriculture workers, who have a specific skill set, in this low unemployment, Barela said. His office can provide re-training, however.