• 59°

County sees jobless rate decline in Dec.

Southwest Mississippi counties posted strong December employmentfigures in the latest figures released from the state Department ofEmployment Security.

Lincoln County’s unemployment rate of 7.2 percent was thesecond-lowest in Southwest Mississippi and 21st-lowest among thestate’s 82 counties, said David Holland, director of the county’sbranch of the state Department of Employment Security.

Holland said 7.2 percent “sounds good to me considering wherewe’ve been since Katrina.

“But, looking back to December last year, it was 5.9,” hecontinued.

Lincoln County’s rate was down three-tenths of a point fromNovember’s 7.5 percent.

Nearly every county in Mississippi has been fighting highunemployment since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Aug. 29,but especially in south and central Mississippi, where the greaternumber of evacuees fled to escape the storm, Holland said. Althoughevacuees filed unemployment in their home communities in Louisiana,the figures count for the county in which the application wasmade.

That skews the “real” unemployment figures for many counties inMississippi, Holland said. Lincoln County’s actual figures may bereturning to normal with the flow of evacuees back to their homeson the coast.

“Statewide, they’ve noticed a huge drop in Louisiana claims,” hesaid. “That’s probably had a pretty good impact. It would indicatewe’re making a good recovery.”

The traditionally strong coastal counties continue to postunemployment rates double that of the state’s 9.3 percent as theystruggle to recover from the hurricane. Harrison County’s 22.1percent gave it the highest unemployment rate in the state followedby Hancock County’s 21 percent and Jackson County’s 15.2percent.

In all, 51 counties reported unemployment rates less thanMississippi’s 9.3 percent. Double-digit unemployment rates wererecorded in 26 counties.

A majority of Southwest Mississippi figures were below the staterate. Amite County edged Lincoln County, 7.1 percent to 7.2percent, to post the lowest rate in the region. The two countieswere followed by Simpson (7.3), Lawrence (7.8), Adams County (8.2),Franklin (8.2), Copiah (8.3), Pike (8.7), Walthall (8.7) and Marion(8.9) counties.

Only Jefferson Davis (9.6 percent) and Wilkinson (10.5 percent)counties exceeded the state unemployment rate.

January’s rates will be difficult to predict, Holland said,because of the continued flow of evacuees back to the coast and thetraditional rise of unemployment as weather prohibits constructionand other outdoor professions. However, he expects January’sfigures will show an increase in local unemployment filings thatwill not be balanced by the evacuees returning to the coast.