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Kansas City's economy is rebounding as unemployment rates drop across Missouri

Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Go Chicken Go, located at 5101 Troost Ave. displays a sign advertising jobs as businesses across Kansas City are short workers.

Unemployment rates are dropping across Missouri after a pandemic-driven downturn, but some workers are slow to return to the labor force.

Unemployment rates across Missouri have dropped significantly since a year ago, a sign that the economy is recovering after a downturn driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that September unemployment rates in eight of Missouri’s metropolitan areas had fallen compared to rates at the same time last year.

Frank Lenk, the Mid-America Regional Council’s director of research services, said these numbers show that the economy is continuing to rebound.

“The economy is well into recovering most of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic and in Kansas City, it’s close to 90% of the jobs that have recovered that were lost right at the peak of the pandemic,” Lenk said. “So these numbers reflect a continuation for Kansas City.”

The Missouri Business Alert reported that Kansas City’s unemployment rate was at 3.5% in September, almost a 2% decrease from last year. St. Louis also saw a significant decline, dropping 2.4% to 3.3%. Columbia’s unemployment rate ranked lowest among Missouri's metropolitan areas at 1.8%, which was a 1.5% drop.

Connor Giffin
Missouri Business Alert
The Missouri Business Alert reports that September unemployment rates dropped significantly from last year across eight Missouri metros.

Another sign of a recovering economy is marked by U.S. employers adding 531,000 jobs in October, according to Labor Department data. But as the rate of people participating in the workforce stagnates, many businesses are grappling with worker shortages and supply chain problems.

Lenk said that one of the biggest factors constraining people from returning to the workforce is childcare as providers dwindled during the pandemic. He said that two-thirds of people who used to be in the workforce, but are no longer, are women.

Another factor, he said, is a change of priorities for many workers. More power has shifted from employers to employees as businesses struggle to fill positions.

“Workers are reevaluating what it means for them to work and are switching jobs. They’re quitting like crazy, to find something that is more suitable for the lifestyle they'd like to have,” Lenk said.

These worker and supply chain shortages come as demand for goods and services have dramatically increased. Lenk said that after the COVID-19 vaccine became readily available, more people felt safe to spend the money they had been saving.

This inflation leads to empty shelves, rising wages and increasing costs, according to Lenk. However, he said rising wages could draw more people back into the workforce.

“It's still our belief that these supply shortages and increases of prices that people are experiencing now are beginning to decelerate a little bit,” Lenk said. “It'll take probably about a year for it to completely unwind, but by this time, next year, we expect things to feel more normal to folks.”

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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