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More Missourians Lose Unemployment Benefits, Struggle To Re-Enter Workforce

The state unemployment rate is going down, which means out-of-work Missourians are no longer eligible for federal extended employment benefits.
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
The state unemployment rate is going down, which means out-of-work Missourians are no longer eligible for federal extended employment benefits.

About 4,300 Missourians will lose federal extended unemployment benefits starting this week.

The Missouri Department of Labor said in a press release last week it was “triggered off” the program because of its economic recovery. The state unemployment rate dropped to 4.9% last month, down from 7% in August, according to a monthly jobs report released Wednesday.

But the report notes the falling rate is due in part to unemployed workers exhausting their insurance benefits and leaving the labor market. The federal program allowed job seekers to continue receiving aid after depleting the state’s allotted 20 weeks of regular benefits.

The state estimates more than 146,000 Missourians are still unemployed.

John Horn, a Washington University professor of practice in economics, said a relatively high number of unemployed individuals paired with a falling rate indicates there’s a lot of turnover — meaning the people employed changes frequently.

“The churn is from restaurants opening and then closing down or smaller shops that are asking for retail workers and then have to shut down,” he said. “It’s more the lower skill, lower waged jobs which are churning more than the higher income jobs — which leads to different levels of recovery between higher income and lower income populations.”

Horn said the economy has improved since April, when the state unemployment rate spiked at 10.2% during shutdowns. But, he said initial job gains were the easy part, and getting back to full employment will be much harder. The state’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate was below 4%.


Horn said the federal extended benefits program may have provided a stopgap for individuals to pay for childcare and skills training while looking for work.

“Losing that cushion is going to put even more stress on trying to find that job,” he said.

Barriers to re-entering the workforce

Job centers in St. Louis County are fielding an uptick in calls from job-seeking residents.

But Greg Laposa, director of workforce development at St. Louis County’s Department of Human Services, said he’s finding many need help with necessities like housing, before they can look for a job.

“We're working with our broader Department of Human Services and St. Louis County to kind of triage and address those varied needs,” he said. “That is something that we're seeing a lot more of now is, just those dire basic needs that people have, whether it's food or housing, that intersect with the need for a job.”

As many jobs shift toward technology-driven remote work, Laposa said many job seekers are being left behind because they don’t yet have those skills.

“A lot of the remote work that’s happening, or virtual opportunities to do work, is concentrated in the professional services arena, which in many cases requires a bachelor's degree or higher,” he said.

Laposa said his department is helping match workers with opportunities that put them on a career path to higher wages and more stable work.

He said he’s seeing many people start training programs in warehousing, truck driving and IT industries, which range from two to eight weeks or more. The department offers up to $10,000 in support for those working on a credential, certificate or toward a degree.

Access to technology is also a barrier. Laposa said many companies now look for talent through virtual job fairs and require interviews over Zoom. The county’s job centers have computers available and offer technical assistance, as well as help with interviewing and resume writing.

To find more information about job center resources in St. Louis County, call: 314-615-6010

For information about resources in St. Louis, call: 314-589-8000

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.