February jobless rate drops under 10 percent

Published 8:00 pm Friday, March 30, 2012

As the weather gets warmer, people are getting out more and that trend appears to reflect in the most recent unemployment numbers released in the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s February report.

     Lincoln County’s figure fell to just under 10 percent for the first time this year at 9.7 percent. January’s rate stood at 10.1 percent.

     Lincoln County’s February rate was the second-lowest in Southwest Mississippi to Adams County’s 9.2 percent. Also in Southwest Mississippi, Pike County was at 11.3 percent, Lawrence 10.9, Walthall 11.6, Copiah 11.2, Jefferson 14.1, Franklin 10.4 and Amite 10.8 for February.

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     The lowest rate in the state was in Rankin County where the figure is 6.1 percent. The highest numbers were clustered mainly in the Delta, where Tunica County’s 17.4 percent rate is the highest in the state.

     Statewide, the unemployment rate stood at 9.5 percent, which is nearly a full point higher than the national average of 8.7 percent.

     Regarding Lincoln County’s total, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield said a decrease in unemployment is always good.

     “It’s good to see our numbers under 10 percent,” said Brumfield. “That change goes along with our stronger numbers in sales tax, which all point to continued improvement in our economic state.”

     Despite the continued improvement, Brumfield said he expects to see the trend stop sometime soon.

     “I hope we continue to see unemployment decline, but typically during warmer months it goes up once people who were previously in school try to enter the work force,” said Brumfield.

     Another threat to increased employment is gas prices. The price of fuel was between $3.74 and $3.86 a gallon in Brookhaven Thursday afternoon and the state average was at $3.74 and rising, people will have to put more of their income into fuel and not into food or shopping.

     “Gas prices are starting to really affect people,” said Brumfield. “But at this point, it’s difficult to tell how it will work its way down to the unemployment rate. It will affect our sales tax collections moreso than unemployment.”

     Brumfield said as the economy has improved since the Great Recession, Lincoln County’s unemployment rate has decreased as well.

     “We’ve seen a continued decrease over the past year or so with the economy improving,” said Brumfield. “I attribute that to people waiting until confidence increased in the economy and then eventually they had to buy a new car, or new clothes or do improvement to their home. This all follows national trends of recovery.”

     While he’s hopeful that next month’s figures show the positive trend continuing, Brumfield wonders how fuel prices might impact employment.

     “I hope to see next month’s numbers to show slight improvements, but there could be some stagnation due to fuel prices,” said Brumfield. “But it’s difficult to make such an assessment. That points back to us needing to keep our money local and shop in Brookhaven as much as we can. We hope the March returns see continued improvement.”