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Jobless report good sign for economy

Lincoln County now leads Southwest Mississippi when it comes to employment.

     The county’s unemployment rate retreated to 8.5 percent in March, according to the state Department of Employment Security. That represented a decrease of 1.2 percentage points from February’s rate.

     The national rate has declined to 8.4 percent while the state average is 8.7.

     Brookhaven/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield said the number is a good sign for the local economy.

     “This is the first time in several years we’ve seen our unemployment rate dip under 9 percent,” he said. “There have been jobs added to several of our industries plus a few new retail openings recently.”

     Brumfield added this is not the time to relax.

     “We’re not out of the woods yet, but this is a sign of improvement,” he said.

     Lincoln County’s unemployment rate of 8.5 percent was the lowest in Southwest Mississippi, with Pike County coming in at 10.7 percent, Walthall 10.5, Lawrence 9.9, Copiah 9.9, Franklin 9.0 and Amite 9.5.

     Jefferson County had the highest rate in the region at 13.9 percent. Adams County’s was the second-lowest at 8.8 percent.

     Brumfield said he expects unemployment to tick up in the early part of the summer as it does in most years.

     “We do expect this number to increase as we go into the summer and students get out of school, but having it under 9 percent for the first time in a while is definitely a good sign,” said Brumfield.”

     Across the state, Holmes County had the highest percent of jobless claims at 15.9 percent.

     The Mississippi Delta region continues to struggle with unemployment, with 13 of the counties in that region having unemployment rates over 10 percent. Only DeSoto, Bolivar, Carroll and Warren Counties possessed rates in the single digits.

     As unemployment rates are decreasing, gas prices are as well, which bodes well for the economy. The current national average is $3.82 per gallon, which has fallen off some in the past week. The state average is $3.67.

     “I think the best thing that will come from lower gas prices is confidence,” said Brumfield. “People’s shopping habits have usually been tied to gas prices and our sales tax numbers have been flat for most of this spring. Hopefully these lower prices will put confidence back in people and help dollars move around the community.”

     Brumfield hopes these better employment numbers give local businesses a boast in the long run.

     “To be under the state and right in line with the national average looks good for us locally,” he said. “If we could get our local retail activity to increase, things will really be looking up.”