Chickasaw jobless rates drops to single digits

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HOUSTON – After suffering through double-digit unemployment most of the year, Chickasaw County’s jobless rate dropped to 9.9 percent last month

The trend was part what local businessmen and employers feel is a warming of the economy and a need to add jobs as orders and production increases.

Northeast Mississippi’s annual unemployment rate dropped for the second straight year, falling to 9.3 percent in 2013. The average for 2012 was 9.4 percent.

The region wrapped up 2013 with a December jobless rate of 7.6 percent, the lowest since April 2008, when it was 6.4 percent.

Chickasaw’s 9.9 percent in December was better than Monroe’s at 10.2 percent and Webster’s at 10.5. It was still above Calhoun County’s jobless rate of 8.5 percent.

Lee County notched a 7 percent unemployment rate in December with Pontotoc recording 6.4 percent and Union and Lafayette counties reporting the best rate in the region at 5.4 percent.

Clay County had the highest unemployment in the state at 15.5 in December, but that was down from its 2013 annual average of 18.5 percent.

With the economy improving in fits and starts, the 16 counties that comprise Northeast Mississippi have been able to log single-digit jobless rates for 18 of the past 24 months.

Labor figures show the state economy overall was slowly improving as well.

The state jobless rate – adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes – showed Mississippi’s unemployment was 8 percent in December, the lowest since January 2008.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December from 7 percent in November. It was also below the 7.9 percent level of December 2012. As in Mississippi, the December nationwide drop stemmed from people giving up their job search.

County figures are not seasonally adjusted, but they still indicate a trend of lower unemployment for Northeast Mississippi.

While the recession officially ended in December 2009, its effects lagged in Mississippi. Unemployment hit a peak in February 2010 at 13.7 percent. The region started 2013 with 11.1 percent unemployment, but since June, the rate has dropped from 10.4 percent to 7.6 percent. In December 2012, the rate was 9.6 percent.

Industrial announcements across the region have started the year on a good foot. General Atomics announced recently it was adding 80 jobs to its eighth expansion in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South in Shannon. Two days later, German vehicle supplier Grammer AG said it was moving its U.S. subsidiary’s manufacturing headquarters in the same park, with up to 650 jobs.

Jackson Furniture, who used to have a plant in Houston, announced Feb. 5 it was adding 200 jobs to its facilities in Myrtle and Mantachie.

Factories in Pontotoc, Okolona and New Albany were also reportedly hiring this month.

Parking lots at local furniture factories were full this month, indicating workers were on the job and production lines were runnings. Several local manufacturers were also working weekends to fill orders.

The federal government said Friday that manufacturers, construction firms and mining and drilling companies added a strong 76,000 jobs combined last month.

Cold weather likely held back hiring in December, economists said, but the impact faded in January. Construction firms, which sometimes stop work in bad weather, added 48,000 jobs last month.

Health care employment was mostly unchanged for a second straight month after adding 17,000 jobs a month last year. Retailers cut 12,900, the most in 18 months.

And in January, government shed 29,000 jobs, mostly in education and the Postal Service. That was the biggest drop in government employment in 15 months.

On a more hopeful note, the Labor Department said a survey of service sector companies, including retailers, banks and restaurants, found that they grew faster in January than in December.

Average hourly earnings rose 5 cents to $24.21, Friday’s report said. Average hourly pay has risen 1.9 percent in the past year, slightly ahead of the 1.5 percent inflation rate.

Over the past five years unemployment in Chickasaw County has averaged 12.12 percent.

The labor force – the number of people with jobs or actively seeking jobs – fell by 7,000 across the state. That figure has dropped every month this year.

Unemployment of roughly 4 percent is considered very good with an unemployment rate of 6 to 8 percent considered good for a labor-intensive community.

Peak unemployment statewide reached 145,289 in July 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are now more than 36,000 fewer unemployed.

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