By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Michael Miller has been out of work for about a month but feels optimistic that he’ll land a job – any job – soon.
With a pregnant wife and a baby daughter expected to arrive in January, Miller is ready to begin work after moving from Jackson, Tenn., to Tupelo, where they can be closer to family.
The national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent for September was little changed from a month earlier and showed the country added about 148,000 jobs.
Miller and his wife were among visitors at the Tupelo WIN Job Center, where out-of-work folks can get help in their job search. He last worked as a stocker at Walmart in Tennessee and hopes to find work in a factory in the Lee County area.
“I have an interview today and have been on four interviews already,” he said last week.
With the holidays and a baby approaching, Miller and his wife, Alyssa Bass, are among Mississippians needing income to support their family. Right now, they’re depending on family for help.
State, regional and county data on unemployment rates for September will be delayed until November because of the recent partial government shutdown.
However, for August, preliminary reports show Mississippi’s unemployment rate at 8.5 percent, while the 16-county region comprising Northeast Mississippi reported a 9.4 percent rate of job-seekers without work, according to data from the state Department of Employment Security.
All of these numbers are adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes.
Joshua McGregory, 27, has also been out of work for a month. Working at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in nearby Blue Springs, McGregory said he injured his shoulder after nine months on the job as a forklift operator and said he was replaced while recovering.
With two vehicles, a house payment and a dog, McGregory said living off his wife’s income barely allows them to pay their bills. He has applied for jobs online and in person, finding the constant rejection – told either jobs have been filled or the business isn’t accepting applications – hard to endure during an extended period of time.
“Putting in the effort is depressing when you can’t get nothing,” he said.
With limited resources, each time he drives to a business that isn’t hiring, McGregory thinks about the gas used in his vehicle to get there.
“I was told by a company to come back today,” he said. “But was told the job was filled when I got there.”
McGregory dropped out of high school in the ninth grade but earned his GED diploma and has considered going back to school to make himself more marketable for a job.
“My wife and I talked about me going back to school,” he said. “But I’d rather have a job.”
Jim Goodwin, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Tupelo, a staffing company that works with 75 companies in the region, including 16 different Toyota suppliers, said he has found people looking for work in the area fairly static in recent months. He said that’s reflective of the local economy in Tupelo staying relatively stable, with few new businesses and few existing companies closing.
“We’re not seeing anything materially going up or down,” he said.
However, Goodwin said jobs he has the highest demand to fill are skilled trade positions, jobs like electricians, plumbers, millwrights and heating and air conditioning technicians. He said challenges in filling these jobs locally have caused his company to look outside the local field of job candidates to those in other regions.
“It’s a good time to have your son be a plumber,” he said.
For out-of-work truck driver Carroll Speights, 57, the job search has lasted a year and counting. With 32 years of truck-driving experience, he said he knows he could have had a job by now, but he wants a position willing to compensate for his decades of experience.
“I guess these companies want to pay these younger kids less,” he said.
For now, Speights lives off a cushion in his bank account and doesn’t want to dip it his savings. A self-described penny-pincher, he figures he has enough money to last two or three more months without dipping into savings.
To help scrape by until he lands another full-time job, Speights said he mowed lawns for a little cash during the summer.
“A man that’s afraid of work is a man who shouldn’t be alive,” said Speights.