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Montana's unemployment rate rose to 4.8 percent in October, up from 4.6 percent in September but still well below the national rate, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry said Friday.

U.S. unemployment last month was 6.5 percent.

Montana is outperforming the nation, "but it is clear that the national economy is causing troubles here at home," said Keith Kelly, the state labor commissioner.

Job losses at Montana companies that recently gave notice of layoffs are not reflected in the October numbers.

Stillwater Mining Co. on Monday gave 60-day layoff notices to 526 workers, although actual job losses may be fewer. Stillwater says it expects to cut costs by ending about 320 company jobs and 50 contract jobs at the East Boulder Mine and the Stillwater Mine at Nye.

The platinum and palladium producer has a Montana work force of 1,770.

On Friday, Plum Creek Timber Co. sliced plywood production at its Kalispell plant by 20 percent, a cut that cost 64 people their jobs effective

Dec. 1.

The company said the Kalispell plant, along with the Columbia Falls facility, will run two rather than three shifts. The cutback at Columbia Falls will cost an additional four jobs, the company said in a press release.

After Dec. 1, the Kalispell operation will employ 212, while Columbia Falls will employ 186.

Figures released earlier this week from the University of Montana show an industry in decline, primarily because of the slumping housing market.

More than 700 millworkers have lost their jobs since 2005, and production at various lumber mills is down 31 percent during the same period.

In Great Falls, demand for assistance through the state Job Service is up, but fewer positions are available, job seekers and the service said.

Nicole York, 27, of Fairfield said she and her husband thought they could get by on his income while she received training for eventual work as dental hygienist, "but we can't do it." On Thursday she checked job opportunities through the Job Service.

"There's not a lot out there and, if there is, it's not paying worth a hoot," York said.

Barbara Hardy of the Job Service staff in Great Falls said that a month ago, employers placed about 400 job orders. "We're down to 278 right now," Hardy said Thursday.

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Nationwide, new claims for jobless benefits rose by 27,000 in one week, to 542,000, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. That is the highest level since 1992. In Montana, claims increased by 268, to 2,079, for the week ending

Nov. 8.

Labor Commissioner Kelly encouraged laid-off workers to use an online option in filing for unemployment benefits.

"Because this is the time of year when most seasonal employment ends and more Montanans are filing for unemployment insurance, the Claims Processing Center's phone lines are extremely busy," Kelly said. The Web address for online filings is www.ui4u.mt.gov.

Todd Morgan, director of forest industry research at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UM, said market conditions will remain dismal through 2009 and perhaps into 2010.

"The job market is not very good," said Laura Gardner, supervisor at the Flathead Job Service. "We actually have the lowest number of job orders since 2002. It's just very, very tight."

Gardner said the employees will be eligible for unemployment payments that will cover about half their wages. Ordinarily, they would receive payments for about six months, but President Bush on Friday signed an extension that will give laid off workers an additional 13 weeks of pay.

"What they need to be doing now is getting their resumes in good order and working on their interview skills for that time when we do see an improvement in the job market," said Gardner.

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