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Jobless rate sees small January decline

As the nation continues to rebound from an economic downturn, so do the state of Mississippi and Lincoln County.

     For the month of January, the unemployment rate for the nation stood at 8.8 percent, while Mississippi was at 10 percent, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security for January. The national unemployment rate was up from 8.5 percent in December.

     Lincoln County was just above the state average, coming in at 10.1 percent for January, but that number was down slightly from December’s unemployment rate of 10.2 percent.

     Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield said while the decrease may be small, he’ll take it.

     “Any reduction in unemployment is good,” said Brumfield. “We seem to be treading similar numbers as we were in December.”

     Also in Southwest Mississippi for January, Pike County was at 11.9 percent, Lawrence 11.7, Copiah 11.7, Franklin 11.5, Amite 10.9, and Walthall stood at 12.1.

     Jefferson County had the highest rate in Southwest Mississippi, coming in at 15.2 percent. Adams County had the lowest in the area at 9.8 percent.

     Statewide, nine counties had jobless rates exceeding 15 percent, with the majority of those in the Delta region. 

     Positive indicators of economic recovery include the Dow Jones Industrial Average going over 13,000 for the first time in its history and being close to doubling its level since the fall of 2008 and several straight months of positive jobs reports.

     “I am glad to be on this side of the mountain,” said Brumfield on the economy’s recent resurgence.

     December college graduates and the end of the busy Christmas shopping season often drive unemployment numbers up slightly in January, so Brumfield sees the slight decrease as a pleasant surprise.

     “We often see an increase in unemployment in January,” said Brumfield. “This decrease is a good indicator for the economy on the whole at this point. As temperatures rise later in the spring, there’s more activity in agricultural sectors, which should further the decrease in unemployment, especially in Mississippi.

     But Brumfield said he expects unemployment to go up slightly late this spring before heading back down over the summer.

     “We typically see the numbers increase in the spring with students getting out of school, but during the summer it tends to go back down,” Brumfield said.

     With gas prices rising for the summer, many are left to wonder how that will affect the fragile economy.

     “At this point, I don’t think rising prices could completely reverse the economy,” said Brumfield. “There are enough balls rolling in the right direction to prevent us from going back to how things were in 2008 and 2009. Rising prices do cause an increased cost of living for everyone, though.”

     Brumfield does think that if gas prices continue to spike, the local economy could experience a brief decline.

     “The biggest short-term impact would be a decrease in local spending, which could cause people to watch their money more closely,” Brumfield said. “People have been tighter with their budget and been putting off big-ticket items until they have more faith in the economy. Rising fuel prices could continue to make them cautious with their spending.”

     Brumfield said he’s optimistic about the future of the economy.

     “I look forward to seeing our unemployment rate go down and our economy continue to improve,” said Brumfield.