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Paradox seen in high sales tax, jobless rate

Brookhaven finds itself in an unlikely paradox with bothunemployment and sales revenue at high levels, an officialsaid.

“It’s surprising to see our unemployment numbers increase inLincoln County despite a record growth in sales tax revenue, whichwas caused by strong increases in local business activities,” saidCliff Brumfield, executive director of the Brookhaven-LincolnCounty Chamber of Commerce.

Unemployment figures for October released recently by theMississippi Department of Employment Security show the county’sunemployment rate at 8.4 percent, up .3 percent from revisedSeptember figures. The numbers placed Lincoln County 46th among thestate’s 82 counties.

Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 9.6 percent.

Sales tax revenue for October indicated businesses were sellingmore despite the higher-than-average number of unemployed,Brumfield said. At $464,719.33, Brookhaven’s share of October salestax was more than $119,000 over October 2004’s total of$345,635.35, according to the state Tax Commission.

Brumfield said the two separate indicators, taken together, arehighly unlikely and create an “interesting and unique paradox” onlyseen in regions on the periphery of a major disaster.

The proximity to the disaster prompts an influx of new residentsduring rebuilding efforts who need jobs to see them through, hesaid. At the same time, those new residents are purchasing itemsand services in the city to which they fled.

“It brings a positive impact to our economy,” Brumfield said.”The only factor that would point to this dramatic of an increase(in both statistics) is Katrina. The hurricane has got to be thecatalyst of this sharp increase (in unemployment) in southwestMississippi.”

The state unemployment numbers actually declined to 9.6 percentfrom 9.8 percent last month because of the harvest season,Brumfield said.

The number of employed Mississippians rose by 4,000 while thenumber of unemployed fell to 127,500, down by 2,500 from September,according to the MDES.

However, 22 counties posted double-digit unemployment rates ofOctober. Most striking, Brumfield said, were that Hancock andHarrison counties reported the highest unemployment rates of 24.3and 24 percent, respectively.

“It’s the harsh reality of the post-Katrina world we’re livingin that they’re now the highest,” he said. “Harrison and Hancockhistorically have the lowest unemployment rates in the state.”

The number of displaced workers here from the Gulf Coast hasalso skewed Lincoln County’s numbers, Brumfield said. The 9.6percent rate here reflects unemployment filings by those displacedworkers because the rates are determined by where the filings aremade and not the county, or state, of residency.

Even with the influx of displaced workers, Brumfield said, “itbodes well for Lincoln County to have the lowest unemploymentfigures in southwest Mississippi.

“As these misplaced workers find employment we should see ourcounty’s, region’s and state’s unemployment numbers decline,”Brumfield said. “We’re seeing a lot of ‘Help Wanted’ signs in areamerchants’ windows.”

Brumfield said he expects this season’s trend of increasingsales tax revenue to continue well beyond Christmas, with theexception that unemployment figures should be less next year.

“I think by this time next year, we should see an even sharperincrease in business traffic through our community, which wouldresult in even more gainful employment,” he said.

Those predictions, Brumfield said, are based on studies done inother states following a major catastrophe.

Unemployment numbers across the area were up in October, withthe exception of Walthall County, which actually showed a decreaseof .4 percent to its already high unemployment rate of 12.6percent.

In addition to posting the lowest unemployment rate in southwestMississippi, Lincoln County also posted the smallest increase.

Lawrence County’s unemployment figures slid up .4 percent to 9.2percent while Pike County’s climbed .5 percent to an 11.8 rating.Copiah County rose to a 10.4 rating with a 1.2 percent increasewhile Jefferson County rose 1.4 percent to a 16.7 rating.

Franklin and Amite counties showed the highest leaps. FranklinCounty’s rate jumped 2.5 percent to a 10.1 rating and Amite postedthe highest gains in the area with a 3.2 percent increase to a 12.9rating.

The high unemployment rates there placed Amite County at 75thand Jefferson County at 78th among the state’s 82 counties.