Leaders question jobless figures

Published 6:02 pm Friday, July 22, 2011

Seasonal swings in the unemployment figures are expected. Factors such as high school and college graduates entering the workforce often have impacts on figures at the state and local levels.

But the poor unemployment figures reported Friday by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations caught some off guard.

“It’s a big thing. It affects the area psychologically, and we really need to figure out where this jump is coming from,” said Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority. “Here, we know that industrial operations are picking up, so we really do not know where this increased unemployment is coming from.”

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Vardaman’s comments came just hours after the release of the figures that showed the state of Alabama’s unemployment for the month of the June was 9.9 percent, while Dallas County’s figure was a staggering 19.1 percent.

The concern for Vardaman and other local economic and government leaders is the way the figures are being calculated, leading some to believe the unemployment rate in Dallas County — while high — is being misrepresented.

“The number of unemployed shot up by 503 people from May,” Vardaman said. “The EDA keeps tabs on local industry as to companies that are hiring and companies experiencing layoffs. In every case, we are finding that the majority of industrial employers are holding steady or hiring.”

He also added the way the unemployment figures are counted is providing a false snapshot of some area’s unemployment.

“This swell in unemployment could be affected by people living in Dallas County but working in other counties,” Vardaman said. “When these workers are laid off, they file for unemployment benefits in their county of residence, thus raising the local rate.”

He added there are more than 5,000 people who commute to Dallas County each day to work, and their employment figures are counted in their home county.

Vardaman said changing the way the state accounts for those who live in one county and work in another would provide a much clearer picture of an area’s unemployment figure.

Regardless of the month-to-month swing, Dallas County’s unemployment saw a significant increase — as did nearly every other county in the state — compared to last June. In Dallas County’s case, the percentage jumped two percentage points from last June, when the area reported a 17.1 percent unemployment rate.

The June figures also showed Dallas County’s unemployment was among the three worst figures in the state, joining neighboring Perry County (19.9 percent) and Wilcox County (23.4 percent).