December 21, 2014

Unemployment rate drops again in November

The state labor market improved in the last month with a drop in unemployment. Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, talked about the latest numbers. “Our unemployment rate dropped down to 4.3 percent, which puts us pretty much in line with where we were last year at this time at 4.2. The U.S. rate is still sitting at 5.8 percent for November,” Koonce says. The state rate was 4.5 percent in October.

Koonce says the total number of Iowans working hit a peak for the year at 1,639,800. “We added 18-hundred jobs to the overall economy, so that’s very good,” Koonce says.”The civilian labor force also grew in size, and so when you put those two things together, we had a nice drop in the unemployment rate. We had a large jump in jobs in leisure and hospitality and then in the professional and business services areas.”

Koonce says much of the increase in the leisure and hospitality area came form restaurants hiring more staff. “It’s and indication that people had more disposable income and they are willing to spend it, especially when they are already spending it on the holidays,” according to Koonce.

Some areas did see a drop in jobs including construction, which is typical this time of year, and manufacturing was also down. The trade, transportation and utilities area was still down. “And a lot of that is on the retail side where more people are doing online shopping and not in the stores. So, spending is up, but not necessarily direct walk-in traffic,” Koonce says.

Non-farm employment in Iowa is 15,700 higher than one year ago, which is one percent higher.


Improving the workforce is a top legislative priority for the Iowa Chamber Alliance


The Iowa Chamber Alliance has released its legislative goals for 2015.

The Iowa Chamber Alliance released its legislative goals for the upcoming session. ICA executive director, John Stineman, says one of their key goals is to improve the Iowa workforce.

“It’s really our fundamental issue this year, and it’s come to a boiling point,” Stineman says. “We need to take a look and make sure we have a cohesive strategy going forward. We have some pretty serious issues right now with the workforce and if we get them right, we can really double down and expand on our economic opportunity. And if we don’t, there’s some real risk.”

Stineman says the first key is to ensure Iowa students graduating from high school and college are ready to either enter the workforce or go onto the next level of education to improve their skills.

“Number two, we need to upscale our workforce and address the skills gap. We need fewer low skilled workers, we need them up to the middle skill and high scale jobs to help drive our economy in the 21st century,” according to Stineman. “We need to make sure Iowa is an attractive place where people want to come so we can work on our rather flat population growth.”

The IBC is made up of the 16 largest chambers of commerce in the state and he says those leaders are also interested in improving the state’s tax system. “We’re concerned about Iowa’s tax complexity and we do feel like there is an opportunity for Iowa to compete a little bit stronger by simplifying and reducing our corporate and individual income taxes,” he explains. “We’re looking at some different economic development incentives we think would provide Iowa with some unique opportunities, including some renewable biochemical incentives.”

Stineman says they remain concerned about the states infrastructure and the need to provide more money to fix roads and bridges. He says the recent talks about coming up with a solution are encouraging. “I would say we’re cautiously optimistic. We’re seeing a very reasonable dialogue on the issue of the fuel tax. I think there’s a growing recognition that there’s a need and we are not going to get there on our current path,” Stineman says. He says they want to see the continued improvement of broadband service as part of the improving infrastructure.

Stineman says they are looking at these issues with the understanding that the ag sector and lower commodity prices have had an impact on the state’s economy. “There’s is an expectation that this could be a potentially tighter budget year and we are going to wait and see what those final numbers are. But we are coming into it with a realistic expectation. The one thing that we would want to make sure happens — even in a tight budget year — that those economic development incentives are fully and appropriately funded, so we get that return on investment from economic growth that ultimately helps those tax receipts,” Stineman says.

You can find out more about the ICA on its website at:


Harkin in Norway to see man he nominated receive Nobel Prize

Senator Tom Harkin (right)  with Kailash Satyarthi.

Senator Tom Harkin (right) with Kailash Satyarthi.

Senator Tom Harkin flew to Oslo, Norway, Tuesday so he could attend today’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and see the man he nominated win the award. Harkin nominated Kailash Satyarthi for the Nobel Prize, for his campaign against child slavery.

“What he would do is he would get people together, he would find a factory where they have a lot of these bonded kids working in bad conditions…and they would go there and rescue these kids,” Harkin says, “hurry them out, put ‘em in their trucks and take ‘em back to a sanctuary.”

Harkin first met the man in 1991 and they have worked together on the issue ever since.

“And so, in 2005, I said to Ky: ‘I’m going to nominate you for the Nobel Prize,'” Harkin says. “He’s such a modest person…In 2006, I renominated him, then I started bringing in more people.”

Satyarthi, who is from India, calls child slavery an “intolerable….crime against humanity” and he has said that he hopes by winning this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, more people will acknowledge that child slavery exists — and must end in our lifetime. This year’s other Nobel Peace Prize winner is 17-year-old Malala, the young Afghan girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for being an advocate of women’s education.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony begins at 1 p.m. in Norway, which is 6 a.m. Iowa time today. It will be followed by an evening banquet that Harkin will attend, along with past Nobel laureates and other dignitaries, like Norway’s royal family. The banquet will begin at noon Iowa time, 7 p.m. in Norway.

Harkin’s trip is a quick one. He plans to fly back to Washington, D.C. Thursday, anticipating votes in the U.S. Senate.

Photo courtesy of Tom Harkin.

New fraud has fake companies trying to get unemployment from the state

Workforce-DevOfficials at the state agency which hands out unemployment benefits to laid-off workers say they’ve detected a new kind of fraud that’s resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars from the state unemployment trust fund. Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert says perpetrators set up fake companies and then “lay off” fake employees who collect unemployment.

Wahlert calls it a whole new field for fraud investigation. “One of our new strategies is not only to pursue fraudulent claims against the trust fund, but also to pursue fictitious companies,” Wahlert says. A new fraud detection system is helping to detect the fake companies before they can collect any benefits, according to Wahlert.

“So far, between August and November of this year, we’ve found 13 fictitious employers,” Wahlert says. In one day alone, eight phony companies registered with the state using the same IP address. Wahlert says the new system has helped prevent half a million dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims.


Report shows a drop in worker deaths in Iowa

Annual workers memorial ceremony in Des Moines.

Annual workers memorial ceremony in Des Moines.

New data shows fewer Iowans died from work-related injuries last year compared to 2012. The U.S. Department of Labor reports there were 71 fatal work injuries in Iowa in 2013. That’s down from 97 the previous year.

Most of the deaths last year, 28, were from traffic accidents. Another 16 deaths were caused by “contact with equipment.”

Iowa’s worst year for work-related fatalities was 1992, when 110 people died from injuries sustained on the job. The fewest fatal injuries, 52, occurred in 1995.



Deere expects net income to drop

Deere logoIowa’s largest manufacturing employer is expecting a further decline in equipment sales. The Moline, Illinois-based Deere & Company predicts its annual net income will drop about 40% and revenue from ag and turf equipment — where it gets two thirds of its income — will fall further than it did in fiscal 2014.

The company says lower commodity prices are discouraging farmers from buying machinery. In the fourth quarter ended October 31st, the world’s largest farm equipment supplier says net income fell to $649 million from $806 million a year earlier. Revenue fell 5 percent to $9 billion. CEO Samuel Allen says the slowdown has been most pronounced in the sale of large farm machinery. Deere, which also manufactures construction equipment, is cutting jobs and production to match demand.

(Reporting by Phil Roberts, Davenport)


Governor again calling for state employees to pay part of health care cost

Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Terry Branstad

The state opened negotiations Monday with the largest state employee union and health insurance is again an issue. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, requested an 8-percent increase in salaries over a two-year period, and wants the state to continue paying 100-percent of health insurance.

The state is proposing a 1 percent pay increase with state employees picking up 20 percent of the cost of insurance.

Governor Terry Branstad told reporters Monday that state workers should pay part of their insurance costs. “I have been on record for a long time in feeling that everybody ought to have some skin in the game, ought to make some contribution,” Branstad says.

Branstad sought the same thing during negotiations two years ago and ultimately an arbitrator ruled the state should continue to pay 100 percent of the health insurance, but denied the employees a pay raise.

Branstad says the union representing state law officers has agreed to pick up part of the cost of their insurance, and non-contract employees do as well. He says other state employees should also contribute. “Frankly we are paying a price for it not happening,” Branstad says. “The executive council had to approve a 40-million dollar increase in cost in our health care. And I think if people have some skin in and we work in a collaborative way together, we can do a better job of controlling health care costs for state employees.”

The negotiations on the new contract will resume in January behind closed doors.