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Jobless rate falls; storm not reflected

Summer unemployment numbers were good for southwest Mississippi,but officials warned of potentially higher jobless numbers in themonths ahead because of Hurricane Katrina.

Lincoln County’s jobless rate for July, the most recentavailable, was down four-tenths of a point to 7.6 percent, and mostother area counties had declines of more than one percentage point.Information on August unemployment is expected to be releasedsoon.

Mississippi Department of Employment Security andBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce officials suggestedSeptember totals could show the impact of Hurricane Katrina on thearea.

“We have processed over 1,000 claims for unemployment since wereopened Sept. 6 after Katrina,” said David Holland, manager of theBrookhaven WIN Job Center.

Holland said many of those were displaced Louisiana residents,who were assisted in filing for unemployment over the Internet.Lincoln County residents were also part of the total.

“We had a lot of people file because they were out of work a fewdays or a few weeks,” Holland said.

Cliff Brumfield, executive vice president of the chamber,agreed.

“We expect a sharp increase in claims due to the weeks followingKatrina,” Brumfield said.

Brumfield said businesses shut down due to a lack of power butwere able to reopen shortly thereafter.

“Many local businesses were back on line in just a few days,”said Brumfield, suggesting any spike in unemployment totals couldbe short-lived.

With Louisiana residents filing for claims in their state, theyshould not be reflected in Mississippi totals. However, anyLouisiana residents who stay in Mississippi and seek employmentcould show up in local and state numbers, Holland indicated.

“We’ll see the real Lincoln County numbers soon,” Holland said.”I don’t know what they’re going to be.”

Holland said his office and other centers have been workingextended hours from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. to assist inunemployment claims, but he did not know how much longer that wouldcontinue. He said claims at the local center are beginning tosettle down somewhat.

Holland mentioned opportunities for employment that some workersmay pursue. He said some employers are seeking crew members to goto Slidell, La., or New Orleans for cleanup operations.

“We’ve gotten a lot of openings for that sort of thing,” hesaid.

Also, Georgia-Pacific’s announced plans to reopen plants inGloster and Roxie have attracted attention. G-P expects to hire 500workers at the plants.

“That’s brought a lot of people in,” said Holland, mentioningformer G-P employees who are looking to rejoin the company.

Holland said working at the WIN center has been a “rewardingexperience” following the hurricane.

“We’ve been able to help people get jobs or help them get theirunemployment benefits,” he said.