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Unemployment rate brings good news about area economy

Lincoln County ended 2003 on a strong economic note as thecounty’s unemployment rate dropped below 4 percent for December,according to Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC)totals.

At 3.7 percent, the county’s rate was down three-tenths from aNovember total of 4 percent. The total was another reason to cheerduring the holidays.

“It’s one of the lowest rates in the state,” said Chandler Russ,Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce executivevice-president.

Lincoln County placed 23rd in county-by-county rankingsstatewide. And the county continued to have the lowest rate insouthwest Mississippi.

“We’re happy with that and continue to be a leader in this partof the state,” Russ said.

In actual numbers, Russ said 40 more people were employed inDecember than in November.

Even more significant was a comparison between December 2002 andDecember 2003.

Lincoln County’s jobless in December a year ago was 6.8 percent,with 990 unemployed, Russ said. The December 2003 total was 4percent with 520 without jobs.

“We’ve got a really strong service sector,” said Russ, citingjob developments in warehouse distribution, retail trade, bankingand finance, and holiday-related employment gains.

Russ also mentioned an increase on the manufacturing side of thejob spectrum. He cited expansions and other activity at DelphiElectric Systems, EPCO and Continental Carbonic.

“That’s helped out tremendously,” he said.

Russ predicted higher jobless rates once figures for the newyear arrive.

“I expect to see a slight increase in the following months, butnothing that’s not seasonal,” Russ said.

Several area counties experienced jobless rate declines inDecember, while others remained the same or increased by a smallpercentage.

Pike and Copiah counties each has drops of two-tenths of apoint. Pike maintained the second-lowest area rate at 4 percent,while Copiah’s total was 4.8 percent.

Walthall County came in a 4.3 percent, a rate decline ofone-tenth of a point.

Lawrence and Franklin counties’ rates held steady from Novemberto December. Lawrence County’s total was 5.3 percent and FranklinCounty’s rate was 7.2 percent.

Amite County saw a small two-tenths of a point increase to 6percent.

With a seven-tenths of a point jump, Jefferson County’sunemployment total stood at 14.8 percent. That was the highest inthe state, half a point above the second-highest total of 14.3percent in Sharkey County.

For the state as a whole, Mississippi’s jobless rate was 4.7percent.

That was up one-tenth from November’s 4.6 percent, but wellbelow a December 2002 rate of 6.5 percent. The state was also belowthe national average of 5.4 percent.

MESC Executive Director Curt Thompson was pleased with theyearly progress in jobless totals. He said comparing jobless ratesfrom year-to-year instead of month-to-month gives a better pictureof the economy.

“When you make that comparison, the rate shows a sizable dropindicating that the jobs picture is improving,” he said. “It isparticularly encouraging to see the Mississippi rate continuing tobe lower than the national rate.”

MESC officials expected rate increases in January due to weatherconditions’ impact on construction and agriculture andafter-holiday layoffs.