One Black Belt county still waiting for jobless figures to improve

Published 1:53 pm Sunday, July 20, 2014

By Christopher Edmunds 

The Selma Times-Journal 


More Alabamians were looking for work in June, especially those in Black Belt counties, according to the latest report from the state department of labor.

According to preliminary unemployment data for June 2014, 1,999 people in Dallas County were unemployed, an increase from 1,667 unemployed in May.

The increase brings Dallas County’s unemployment number up to 14.3 percent. May’s unemployment figure for Dallas County was 12.1 percent.

“It’s a disappointment,” Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said. “I wish we had single-digit unemployment like the state.”

Statewide, every county saw an increase in unemployment rates from May, but a seasonal adjustment kept the overall 6.8 percent unemployment rate for Alabama unchanged.

Tara Hutchison, communications director for the Alabama Department of Labor, said the seasonal adjustment is used to estimate trends in the work force, such a more students and school workers looking for work in the summer months. She said the statewide increase can mostly be attributed to the summer surge in total work force.

“For the most part, it is seasonality for all the counties,” Hutchison said. “The seasonal adjustment smoothes out these spikes for the state.”

Compared to the rest of the state, Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties had the highest unemployment rates in June with 14.3, 14.8 and 17.2 percent, respectively.

Ballard said the proposed pilot training program at Craig Field gives him hope for the future of employment in Dallas County.

“I personally have some optimism,” Ballard said. “The pilot training program will have a huge impact on the area if that comes through.”

Optimism may be less common in Wilcox County, where the new Golden Dragon Copper Tubing plant was supposed to reverse the trend of rising unemployment.

The plant has been in operation since May 28, and although about 160 people currently work at the plant, Wilcox County’s unemployment rate jumped from 15.6 to 17.2 percent from May to June.

George Alford, with the Wilcox County Economic Development Authority, said the small population can magnify any change in employment in the area.

“We’ve got such a small labor force that even a small change can have a big effect on our unemployment numbers,” Alford said.

While the latest numbers might just seem like more bad news for the Black Belt, Alford said it is best to think long-term.

“It’s just going to take time,” he said. “You can’t just open up a plant and fix these problems in two months. It’s a process, not an event.”