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Unemployment down to 3.9 percent in March

Area unemployment totals plunged in March as several southwestMississippi counties saw rate declines of more than one percentagepoint, according to statistics from the Mississippi EmploymentSecurity Commission (MESC).

With a rate of 3.9 percent, Lincoln County’s jobless total wasdown 1.2 points from February’s 5.1 percent. The county’s March2004 rate was 2.1 percentage points better than March 2003’s 6percent.

“Overall, everything looked good,” said Chandler Russ,Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce executivevice-president.

According to statistics, 60 more people had jobs in March andthe number of unemployed dropped from 710 in February to 550 inMarch. The civilian labor force was down by 100 people, from 14,190in February to 14,090 in March.

“And we continued to be the region leader in southwestMississippi,” Russ said.

Statewide, Lincoln County had the 23rd-lowest jobless rate. Thecounty was below the state’s 4.6 percent rate and more than twopoints lower than the national 6 percent average.

Russ also commented on March jobless rates in recent years.

“This is the lowest March unemployment number in the last fiveyears,” Russ said.

The highest March rate in that time period was 7.1 percent in2002.

Russ attributed the good results to a strong and resilient localeconomy.

“Brookhaven and Lincoln County are doing well, and we hope tocontinue that,” Russ said. “We should have some seasonalfluctuations over the next few months, but I look for rates to stayin the 3.9 percent to 6 percent range.”

Jobless rates in four other area counties also fell by more thanone percentage point. Two others saw rates declines of more thanhalf a point.

With a 1.4-point drop, Lawrence County laid claim to thesecond-lowest rate in the area. Its March total was 4.3 percent andplaced the county 27th statewide.

Right on its heels was Pike County, which saw an eight-tenths ofa point decline to 4.5 percent. It ranked 28th statewide.

Also with a sub-5 percent rate was Walthall County. Its 4.8percent total was down seven-tenths.

At 5 percent, Amite County’s rate was down 1.6 percentage pointsfrom February. Franklin County’s jobless total dipped 1.4percentage points to 6.8 percent.

Copiah County had the smallest rate decline over the two-monthperiod. Its March total was 5.6 percent, four-tenths of a pointlower than February.

Jefferson County had the largest drop, 2.6 percentage points,but continued to have one of the highest rates in the state. Its13.4 percent total was second-highest behind Sharkey County’s 16.4percent.

MESC officials said the statewide 4.6 percent total was down onepoint from February and 2.2 points from last March’s 6.8 percent.Only nine counties had double-digit jobless rates while 30counties, led by Lamar County’s 2.2 percent, were at or below thestate average.

MESC Executive Director Curt Thompson indicated that the futureis difficult to forecast.

“April numbers normally register lower from March’s rates, butwith the numbers already so low, it will be interesting to see ifthe rate will go any lower,” Thompson said.