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County, area fare well in latest unemployment report

Lincoln County led southwest Mississippi in unemployment rate bydropping .9 percent to a 7.2 percent in February, according to thelatest figures released from the state Department of EmploymentSecurity.

David Holland, director of the Brookhaven branch office of theMississippi Department of Employment Security, said the mostnotable thing found in the statistics is that despite the ravagesof Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, Lincoln County figures arecomparable to those posted last year. The the county’s February2005 unemployment rate was 7.1 percent.

“We’re still about comparable to where we were in February2005,” he said. “Lincoln County is faring well among the state’s 82counties.”

The county was ranked 20th in the state.

February figures may show some return to normalcy following thedevastation of the storm, Holland said.

Unemployment rates across southwest Mississippi soared in themonths following the hurricane as coastal residents flooded intoareas not devastated by the storm. Those jobless claims werereflected in the counties where they were filed rather than theirhome counties.

The .9 percent drop in Lincoln County unemployment figures inFebruary followed in upward spike of .9 percent in January.

Holland said January’s spike was interesting because it wasdifficult to determine what caused it. Most likely, he said, it wasa combination of factors such as cold weather affectingconstruction projects, farming, seasonal after-holiday layoffs andevacuees hitting the time limit of support from some federal reliefprograms.

Holland predicted a more stable employment environment for Marchand in coming months as the weather continues to warm and outdoorworkers can return to their construction jobs and farming.

Like Lincoln County, Amite County also posted unemploymentnumbers below 8 percent. Its 7.5 percent rate represented a drop of.4 percent from January numbers.

Southwest Mississippi counties overall showed a marked increasein employment.

Adams County fell .2 percent to 8 percent; Pike County loweredits figures by .3 points to 8.4 percent and Franklin County posteda .4 points decrease to 8.5 percent from January to February.

Copiah County remained at 8.3 percent for February whileWalthall County’s 8.2 percent rate represented a .7 percentdrop.

Only one area county, Lawrence, posted unemployment rates higherthan the state average of 8.6 percent. However, Lawrence Countyposted the most substantial drop in unemployment with a decrease ofa full percentage point, from 9.8 percent in January to 8.8 percentin February.

Exactly half of Mississippi’s counties posted rates below thestate average, while 21 counties posted unemployment percentages inthe double digits. As a whole, however, the state improveddramatically with coastal areas showing increased job gains becauseof hurricane cleanup and reconstruction contracts.

Areas dependent on farm-related jobs tended to have higher ratesof unemployment, but even those numbers should begin to showimprovement next month, according to the MDES.

“As spring arrives, outdoor business endeavors should increasecausing the unemployment rate to continue to drop over the nextcouple of months,” said Wayne Gasson, chief of the labor marketinformation for MDES, in a press release.