Mixed jobs picture across region

Staff Writer

The state hit a record-low unemployment rate and had a record number of people working in December. And Clay and surrounding counties followed the jobless rate trend, but the percentages still aren't always translating into more jobs.

But that isn't stopping people from remaining optimistic about their prospects.

"I've just gotten an interview next week with a local company. I've had a couple in the last month or so, but this one I think is the best, the best chance at something long term," Tim Sanders said as he left the WIN Job Center computer center at East Mississippi Community College in Mayhew.

"It's been tough, but I'm trying to remain optimistic. I know folks who've gotten jobs in days and some who have been looking for weeks," added Sanders, who is taking some time off from school to work and hopes to get a job at one of the region's manufacturing plants.

"You have to remain upbeat, something will come along," added Susan Kendall, who also was searching for jobs at the WIN Center. "I know jobs are out there. We can find something.

"I've been on-again, off-again looking, but now that the holidays are over, it's time. I may go to school and get more training. I think that may be the best thing for me. You just have to do that," the 23-year-old former waitress said.

The state's seasonally-adjusted jobless rate in December was 4.6 percent, the lowest since the U.S. Department of Labor began calculating state rates in 1976, according to the state Department of Employment Security.

The rate was down almost a full point from 5.5 percent in December 2016. And statewide, the number of non-farm jobs increased 17,800 from December to December, according to a survey of Mississippi employers. The 1,162,800 jobs in December was the highest since federal government started tracking such numbers in January 1990.

Seasonally adjusted numbers remove the effects of holiday hiring, school schedules, weather and other factors from employment statistics.

According to not seasonally adjusted numbers, the state's unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in December, down from 5.7 percent a year earlier. Non-farm employment was up 18,900 from December 2016. However, overall employment -- farm and non-farm -- was down 2,100 from year to year, according to the state numbers.

Part of the decline in the state's non-adjusted jobless rate is a significant decline in the number of people in the work force, which dropped from 1,289,300 in December 2016 to 1,271,000 last month.
That ebb and flow in the labor pool impacted jobless rates across the Golden Triangle area.

Clay County's unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in December, down almost two points from 74 percent a year earlier. But the number of people looking for work was down 260 from December 2016 and the number of people with jobs was down 40.

Nearby Chickasaw County offered similar trends as the work force fell from 7,070 to 6,840, and the number of people working slipped from 6,620 to 6,520.

In Lowndes County, the labor pool was down 490 people while the number of residents working slid by 140 from one December to the next, although the unemployment rate fell from 5.8 to 4.6 percent.

In Monroe County, the shifts weren't as dramatic as the labor pool shrank by 250 people to 15,480, but the jobs count slipped only slightly from 14,820 to 14,810. 

Two counties in the area bucked the cycle.

In Oktibbeha County, the work force slid from 23,620 in December 2016 to 23,330 last month, but employment held steady at 22,380, according to the not seasonally adjusted numbers.

And in Noxubee County, the work force dropped only slightly from 3,940 to 3,920 while the number of people working actually increased from 3,630 to 3,670.

State officials could not offer specific factors that might have made a difference there, but local residents say hiring at some local industries and residents commuting to jobs outside the county
combined to make a welcome difference in one of the counties that traditionally has one of the state's highest jobless rates.

Area cities reflect much of the county trends.

In Columbus, the work force slid from 9,710 to 9,510 but the number of people with jobs only slipped from 9,080 to 9,030. In Starkville, the work force lost 150 people down to 12,600 from year-to-year, but the number of people working edged up from 12,170 to 12,180.

Unemployment insurance claims also show some signs of improvement, although some experts say declines may be a mix of people giving up looking for work and people getting new jobs, moving or being under-employed in jobs for which they are over qualified.

For instance, in Clay County, 85 initial unemployment claims were filed in December, compared to 134 in December 2016. At the same time, 431 claims were continuing, unchanged from a year earlier. Chickasaw County saw a similar slight change, with new claims slipping from 76 to 15 and ongoing claims holding almost even at 243.

But in Lowndes, the shifts were more significant with 167 new claims compared to 285 in December 2016 and 859 ongoing claims, down from 1,019.

Noxubee saw one of the biggest drops in new claims, from 61 to 21, but continuing claims edged up to 213.

Oktibbeha had similar trends, with new claims falling from 204 to 140 but ongoing claims rising from 569 to 618.