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Unemployment rate jumps over course of a year

Alabama’s unemployment rate saw a spike from 9.0 percent in April to 9.8 May, according to a Friday news release from the Alabama Department of Public relations.

With an unemployment rate of 17.7 percent, a 9.6 percent increase over the May 2008 figure (8.1 percent), Dallas County has the third-highest unemployment rate in the state, trailing only Wilcox (23.9 percent) and Lowndes (18.0 percent) counties.

The good news is that Dallas County’s numbers over the last three months have seen limited fluctuation. The rate was 18.1 percent in March and dropped to 16.9 in April before its most recent upswing.

“It appears we’ve kind of bottomed out,” said Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority. “The thing about those numbers that’s interesting, if you look at the numbers, not the percentages, from a year ago, the civilian labor force has gone up by about 500 people.”

While the May 2009 Dallas County civilian labor force (15,595) does have a 489-worker advantage on the May 2008 labor force (15,106), other statistics show the expected effects of an economy gripped by recession. The number of employed Dallas County residents dropped by 1,057 in a year, and the number of unemployed workers increased by 1,546.

Vardaman said those numbers will likely go up during the summer, but insists now is not the time to worry.

“This is the time of year, if everything stays the same, it’s going to continue to go up because you’re going to have all your schoolteachers and cafeteria workers, they’re laid off over the summer,” said Vardaman. “Meadowcraft also does their seasonal layoff.”

Another factor causing the percentage jump may be attributed to the means used to collect the information and factors under consideration. As a result, Vardaman says, it is an area that automatically gets whatever the state does. At the same time, data in several Black Belt counties is conducted through the census method.

“It depends on who’s doing your census data. It isn’t an exact science,” said Vardaman. “Prattville’s doing great, hiring a lot of folks and doing well, and they’re all leaving Autauga County to come to Dallas County to get jobs. It doesn’t make sense.”

Percentage points and facts and figures aside, Vardaman says the biggest key during a crippling recession is to hang on to the businesses that are here.

“When you lose a company, you’re never going to get that back. The ones we can maintain that have had to reduce their work force just to keep the inventory in line, those will come back as the economy comes back.”