EDITORIAL:Unemployment

Mississippi’s unemployment rate rose sharply from December in January reports posted early Wednesday on the Web site of the Mississippi Employment Security Commission – numbers that raise the issue of continuing to examine decisions about accepting a full share of unemployment funds in the federal stimulus package.
Unemployment rose statewide from 7.6 percent in December to 9.2 percent in preliminary January figures.
Northeast Mississippi’s rate is 11 percent, a rise from 9 percent in December. Our region’s rate is higher than the national rate – 8.2 percent – and the statewide rate.
Gov. Barbour has said he doesn’t want to accept unemployment funds in the federal stimulus package which would be paid to part-time employees out of work. Barbour says a precedent would be set, potentially causing Mississippi unemployment insurance tax rates to edge higher for employers, which would become disincentive.
Many people and politicians disagree with Barbour. The Mississippi House voted on Tuesday to accept all federal stimulus funds for Mississippi. Barbour immediately criticized the action.
First, give the numbers life: They represent people who had an income and no longer have one, an involuntary interruption in earning a living. By the official numbers, 14,700 more Mississippians are out of work than a month earlier, and 30,700 more than a year ago.
First payments of unemployment compensation rose in January from December and over a year ago.
The trend in our state is following predictions first made in 2008: Economic conditions will worsen before they begin to improve.
We suggest Barbour and the Legislature look together at the impact of rising unemployment on the total economy of our state – families affected, individuals affected, children affected – and part-time workers affected.
Can our state’s unemployed people in all categories, and those who depend on them, afford for the state to turn down income that could put food on tables, pay rent, and buy other necessities until the unemployed find work?
The issue is measuring one cost against another in starkly human terms.
The commission noted in its release that its figures are subject to adjustment, but it also reported, “Mississippi’s not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased sharply in January 2009 to 9.2 percent. … Over the year the largest employment decreases were noted in Manufacturing; Trade, Transportation amp& Utilities; and Professional amp& Business Services.”
Most of those categories go to the heart of Northeast Mississippi’s economy.
Forty-six of Mississippi’s 82 counties have double-digit unemployment. Times aren’t normal, and extraordinary political action may be required.

Joe Rutherford