By Dennis Seid
The unemployment numbers for Northeast Mississippi last month were a mixed bag.
First, the good news: The unemployment rate for the 16-county region dropped a bit, from 11.1 percent in January to 10.9 percent in February, based on figures from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. Also, the total number of employed actually grew from January to February, from 194,360 to 197,520. At the same time, the total number of unemployed stayed about the same - 24,260 in February, compared to 24,290 a month earlier.
The bad news: The region's unemployment rate still is in double-digits, with 14 counties posting rates of 10 percent or more.
Calhoun and Chickasaw counties are both among the number of counties in double-digit unemployment. However, both counties show lower unemployment in February than the revised January figures show.
Chickasaw's rate dropped about half a percent but stayed in stratospheric heights at 14.2 percent in February. Some 1,050 of the county's 7,380-member labor force were jobless.
Calhoun's rate dropped six-tenths of a percent to settle at 11.5 percent in February. In a labor force of 5,870, 670 were jobless.
The moving average of unemployment for the 12-month period the ended in February was 10.1 percent in Calhoun County, with an average of 610 unemployed. Chickasaw's moving average was 11.9 percent, with an average of 920 unemployed.
Despite being in double-digit unemployment, Calhoun County ranked only 31st highest in the state, tied with Kemper County. Chickasaw County was 11th highest.
Some of the counties that traditionally have recorded high unemployment recorded much higher unemployment than usual. Holmes County's rate stood at a full 20 percent in February. Not much lower were Noxubee County, 19.3 percent; Jefferson County, 18.2 percent; and Tunica County, 17.8 percent.
A year ago, the jobless rate in Northeast Mississippi was 6.8 percent.
Then, the number of employed was 202,010. The labor force - the number of people either employed or seeking employment - was 216,710. So in a year's time, according to MDES, the labor force has grown by more than 5,000 people.
The most startling statistic: the number of unemployed in the region has climbed from 14,700 in February of last year to 24,260 this year, a 65 percent increase. But the rise can be attributed to the combination of a larger labor pool and fewer employed workers, a swing of about 10,000 people that skews the results.
Unemployment rates dropped in nine of the region's counties from January to February, while two (Lee and Marshall) rose and the rest had no change.
In Lee County, the region's retail, financial and medical hub, the jobless rate rose to 10 percent, the highest since July 1991 (12.2).
However, it should be noted that in February, the number of employed in Lee County actually grew by 120 workers from January, to 35,690. But an increase in the labor force was the culprit for the rate uptick.
Still, the fact that the region's unemployment rate is at or near historic highs points to the overall economy that is fighting through its 14th month of recession.
Statewide, the jobless rate in February was 9.2 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in January. The national rate in February was 8.9 percent.
Monitor-Herald staff writer Mack Spencer contributed to this report.