Regional jobless rate averaged 12 percent in 2010

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Double-digit unemployment rates have become the norm rather than the exception in Northeast Mississippi, and December was no different.
The jobless rate for the 16-county region was 11 percent. While last month’s figure was half of a percentage point drop from November as well as from December 2009, it marked the 23rd time in the past 24 months that the region endured double-digit unemployment.
But, said Todd Beadles, vice president of work force training and development for the Community Development Foundation, “The employment picture is picking up a little in some sectors.”
Tupelo-based CDF works with companies across the region, and one of Beadles’ main roles is coordinating training programs for them.
“Training is one of the first things to go when companies are in a budget crunch, but I’m pleased to say that this semester, and even last semester, the training numbers have been very good,” he said.
While there has been no large uptick in employment, Beadles said companies showing a willingness to invest in training their workers is an encouraging sign.
Statewide, the December jobless rate was 10.1 percent, up from 10 percent in November and down from 10.5 percent in December 2009. Mississippi added 3,600 non-farm jobs last year, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Manufacturing and construction sectors took the brunt of the declines. Manufacturing lost 4,400 jobs, while construction lost 3,400 jobs. So, last year’s overall growth statewide came via the service sector, which added 8,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate in December was 9.4 percent, compared to 9.8 percent in November and 9.9 percent a year earlier.
In Northeast Mississippi, 14 of the 16 counties posted declines in their jobless rates in December. Lafayette County had the lowest (7.5), while Clay had the highest (17.3).
The number of employed was 186,790 in December, compared to 186,210 a month earlier.
For the year, the region averaged 12 percent unemployment, versus 11.2 percent in 2009, 8.2 percent in 2008 and 7.2 percent in 2007.
While recent expansion announcements provide a small boost, companies continue to wait before hiring, Beadles said.
Earlier this month, Cooper Tire announced it was adding 35 employees for the installation of new equipment. In Pontotoc, furniture manufacturer Southern Motion has hired half of the 200 employees it originally planned to have by the end of next year.
Toyota is in the midst of hiring some 1,200 production workers for its Blue Springs plant it plans to open later this year. A handful of suppliers also are hiring several hundred workers.
“Overall, there’s not a whole lot of hiring, barring Toyota and its suppliers,” Beadles said. “It’s existing industry expansions and some jobs here and there. But I think it will be getting better. I think a lot of companies are waiting to have enough confidence to start hiring. That’s the biggest obstacle. A lot of people are waiting for what happens with all the legislation from Congress to be worked out.”

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.