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Weekly unemployment claims inch up in county, across the state

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) on Thursday released weekly unemployment numbers, as it has since the COVID-19 pandemic started taking hold of the state in mid-March, which showed that nearly 75,000 Alabamians filed for unemployment benefits last week, almost 63,000 of which were related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week’s numbers represent a significant jump statewide after a weeks-long decline in claims – just over 66,400 claims were filed during the week that ended April 18, compared to just over 77,500 the week before that.

Like the state, Dallas County also saw a slight increase in claims filed last week, 617, compared to the week ending April 18, in which 612 claims were filed locally.

Still, last week’s numbers are down significantly in Dallas County compared to the peak that occurred during the week of April 4, in which more than 1,000 unemployment claims were filed – those numbers also line up with the state, which saw more than 106,700 claims filed the same week.

Overall, during the seven weeks that virus-related claims numbers have been distributed, more than 3,500 unemployment claims have been filed in Dallas County.

According to ADOL, the majority of claims filed last week came from the unclassified sector, which posted more than 37,600 claims, followed by manufacturing, with almost 7,000, accommodation and food services, with nearly 6,300, administrative and support, as well as waste management and remediation services, with more than 5,000, retail trade, with just under 5,000 and healthcare and social assistance, with more than 4,300.

For Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sheryl Smedley, the small increase in claims locally could be due to “a number of factors,” not least of which is that ADOL has significantly beefed up its offices to be able to process more claims quickly, but she expects things to start looking up.

According to Smedley, a handful of local businesses are already planning to reopen following Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent order loosening restrictions on some businesses, with more to follow suit in the coming weeks.

Smedley noted that businesses such as barbershops, hair and nail salons and fitness centers are still feeling the sting, but was optimistic that restrictions would be further loosened by the middle of the month as COVID-19 cases taper off.

Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Wayne Vardaman had much the same sentiment.

“I would expect to see improvement next week,” Vardaman said, noting that three local manufacturers – Seowan E-Hwa, Lear and HLA – are all slated to open back up next week. “That’s going to get better and it’s going to get better in a really good way.”

According to Vardaman, the small uptick in unemployment claims could be attributed to a furlough at Hyundai, which inevitably trickled down to other manufacturers, as well as a slump in demand.

“Every particular industry is on a different footing,” Vardaman said.

Vardaman noted that, as retail operations come back on line, demand will go up and manufacturers will begin ramping up operations and workers will return to jobs.

“All of that ties into demand,” Vardaman said. “We have been extremely lucky. We’re seeing some little blips but, all in all, on the industrial side, we’ve done better than even I thought we would. I’m encouraged because we’ve really held our own.”