Jobless report sign of better economy

Published 8:00 pm Friday, June 1, 2012

Fewer people claimed government unemployment benefits in Lincoln County for the month of April, according to a recent report.

     The state Department of Employment Security’s unemployment report for April had Lincoln County tied with Adams County for the lowest rate in Southwest Mississippi at 8.1 percent. The state average was 8.3 percent, which came in about half a point higher than the then-national average of 7.7 percent.

     Brookhaven/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cliff Brumfield said it’s another good sign for the county.

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     “Once again we’re ahead of the state average for unemployment and tied with Adams County,” he said. “It continues to show that our local economy is gaining strength.”

     Around Southwest Mississippi, Pike County’s rate was 10.0 percent, Walthall 10.0, Lawrence 9.6, Copiah 9.1, Franklin 8.9, Amite 9.4 and Wilkinson 9.3. Jefferson County’s rate of 13.0 was the highest in the region.

     While Brumfield sees the number as being very positive, he said unemployment may bump up some later this summer.

      “We’d like to see it continue to decrease, but with school letting out and summer arriving you typically see a mild increase in unemployment,” he said. “But it’s good to see other communities in other parts of the state enjoying lower unemployment as well.”

     Brumfield said it all depends on a variety of factors.

     “As the summer goes on it should go up slightly, but if we see the economy continue to improve it could go down some more,” he said.

     Gas prices have continued to decline and are now around 3.27 per gallon in Mississippi, according to Industry experts predict further lowering of prices deeper into the summer, which could be a boon to the economy.

     “Fuel prices have an impact on unemployment because it raises morale to see the cost of living go down,” said Brumfield. “There are other factors in play, such as the decrease in value of gold and the dollar’s loss of value to the Euro Dollar.”

     But Brumfield expects the unemployment roller coaster to go back down when school resumes in August.

     “Back to school in August tends to make the number drop even more with people in school-related industries going back to work,” he said. “I would hope over the next 90 days we can get it under 8 percent, but a lot can still happen.”

     Consumer confidence is an important factor to consider, according to Brumfield. Recent sales tax numbers were better than expected, which are a good sign.

     “Sales tax numbers were very good recently, and that should stir consumer confidence in the area and draw more business to local shops,” Brumfield said.

     Another thing to consider when looking at how the economic picture may take shape for Lincoln County is oil exploration. That will not be taking place in Lincoln County, but the county will feel an impact from the number of jobs brought into neighboring counties as well as Louisiana.

     “A number of local businesses stand to play a part in shale exploration if it’s found to be a viable option for oil production, which we’ll know in the coming months,” Brumfield said. “Even though we’re not in the center of the activity, we’ll still have a role to play.”