Local jobless rate tops 20 percent

Published 2:36 pm Friday, May 22, 2020

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) released weekly unemployment figures Thursday, just as it has since the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the state in mid-March, showing that 25,150 new unemployment claims were filed last week.

The latest number represents the lowest since the end of March – more than 10,800 people filed for unemployment benefits during the week that ended March 21 but, only a week later, more than 106,700 Alabamians filed for assistance.

Numbers have for the most part followed a steady decline over recent weeks and Dallas County is following much the same pattern.

New unemployment claims dropped to 291 last week, down from 320 the week before, marking the lowest levels seen since March – during the week ending March 21, only 48 unemployment claims were filed from Dallas County; a week later, 460 new claims were filed.

Still, Dallas County’s numbers, when taken together, represent a significant issue for the region – since numbers for the county began being tallied March 14, more than 4,400 Dallas County workers have filed for unemployment.

According to Data USA, just over 14,460 people were employed in Dallas County in 2017 – assuming those numbers have remained roughly the same, nearly 31 percent of the county’s workforce has lost employment during the course of the coronavirus emergency.

However, because many people commute to work in Selma and the surrounding area each day, it is difficult to know what percentage of the local workforce has been forced into unemployment.

According to statewide unemployment figures for April released on the heels of weekly unemployment numbers, the county’s current unemployment rate is 20.9 percent, a double-digit gain on March’s rate of 5.2 percent and April 2019’s rate of 4.6 percent.

In Selma, the unemployment rate shot up to 23.4 percent in April, up from 6.1 percent the month before and 5.7 percent last year.

Statewide, the unemployment rate is at 12.9 percent, significantly higher than March’s 3.0 percent and last year’s rate of 3.2 percent, and represents more than 283,780.

“While we are certainly disappointed to see our unemployment rate rise so sharply this month, it’s not surprising,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “This global pandemic and national disaster has certainly impacted Alabamians’ ability to work. We know that hundreds of thousands of people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past two months and we’ve been able to process and pay a great majority of those. We realize there are some still waiting on relief and we hear and understand their frustration. Please rest assured that my administration is working tirelessly to provide relief to those Alabamians and their families and I have the utmost confidence in the Alabama Department of Labor and the dedicated state employees there who are working tirelessly to serve their fellow citizens.”

ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington echoed Ivey’s sentiments, noting that wage and salary employment decreased by nearly 200,000 in April, with significant losses seen in the leisure and hospitality sector, which shed 79,500 jobs, the professional and business services sector, which axed 29,500 jobs, and more.

“I think everyone will agree that these numbers aren’t numbers we ever wanted to report,” Washington said. “This pandemic has negatively impacted Alabama’s economy and in two months’ time has managed to undo years of positive progress. But the impacted to our employers and workers who carry the economy is even greater. So many had life-altering changed that impacted their families almost overnight. I want all Alabamians to know that we are working nonstop to help move this recovery along. We are developing new technologies, adding staff and making modifications wherever possible to help our workers through this enormously difficult time.”

Selma is currently suffering the state’s highest level of unemployment among “major cities,” followed closely by Anniston, 22.1 percent, and Gadsden, 22 percent, while Dallas County avoided the list of counties with the state’s highest levels of unemployment.

Black Belt counties Lowndes, Wilcox and Greene – with unemployment rates of 26 percent, 22.8 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively – had the state’s highest unemployment rates.