Are unemployment numbers a positive sign?

Published 12:16 am Sunday, December 11, 2011

NATCHEZ — While jobless numbers have fluctuated in the Mississippi and Adams County throughout the year, experts on the job front say that a recent drop could be a promising sign, but no one is cracking the champagne yet.

Mississippi’s unemployment rate for October was 10.2 percent, decreasing four-tenths of a percentage point from the September rate of 10.6 percent. Adams County’s jobless rate also fell slightly, now at 10 percent, down from 10.2 percent in September.

Wayne Gesson, office director of workforce information at MDES, said seeing swings in the unemployment rate is not really unusual; and seeing a slow drop in jobless numbers is expected as the nation climbs out of the recession that officially began in December 2007.

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“In terms of the state, it just went down slightly in October, and that’s a positive sign, but we are not sure if the trend will continue yet,” Gesson said. “The recession definitely impacted us, just like every other state.”

Gesson said at the beginning of the recession, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in Adams County.

“I think it will just continue to take time,” Gesson said.

In Natchez, Peggy Ballard, branch director at the WIN Job Center, agreed.

“Right now I think it’s dropped a little bit because of (companies) locating in town,” Ballard said. “That has made impact, and it helps a little bit. And I have noticed, even though we are at 10 percent, if you look at how we rank with other counties in the state, we are really way on up there.”

Adams County is ranked 21st in a list of unemployment rates of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said he thinks the drop will probably continue.

“I would be surprised if the (unemployment rate) went up,” Russ said. “We’ve had several area business that have done some significant hiring in the last 30 to 45 days.”

Russ said Entersteel is up to approximately 80 employees now, and there are also some additional hires through corrections, Jordan Carriers and Elevance.

“Collectively, when you look at all of those, and energy sector jobs, you start talking about adding a few hundred employees, and that can move the numbers,” Russ said. “I think there are roughly 1,300 to 1,400 people actively seeking employment in Adams County, and if you put 140 of those to work, it could move your number 10 percent.”

Local employers, both large and small, said they are experiencing daily parades of job seekers.

Natchez-Adams County School District Assistant Superintendent Morris Stanton said approximately 450 to 600 people are employed through the school district at any given time, and job applicants stop by daily.

“(Application filing) is a daily ritual,” Stanton said. “The economy is tough.”

Stanton said while so many people are actively seeking work in the school system, the number of available teachers is actually dwindling.

“The state loses a percentage of qualified graduates every year to other states,” Stanton said.

Stanton said many of the teachers the school district retains have been recruited, which might explain why there are more applicants than available positions. Another reason might be that teachers aren’t taking retirement as early, he said.

“If we do have a position, we can tell them what it is, or encourage them to keep an application on file until something opens, and we can call them,” Stanton said.

The school district is currently advertising positions for a teacher’s assistant and a certified art and a social studies teacher, jobs which will be available in January.

“Considering the number of people graduating we recruited this fall, we have a number to bring in for interviews,” Stanton said.

Mary Flach, Belk store manager, said at Christmas time jobs at the store are at capacity — approximately 85 people.

“We’re in great shape,” Flach said.

While Belk is bulked with employees, Flach said there is a daily stream of job applicants. But, Flach said she is under the impression that most of them are not necessarily unemployed.

“I think most people (who apply) are looking for a second job,” Flach said.

Even small business owners like Edna Welch at Edna’s Cake Creations in Natchez see job seekers constantly. She recently had a sign in the window that said, “Experienced baker needed.” Welch said she filled the position very quickly, but she felt terrible turning folks down.

“There are not that many experienced bakers in these parts,” Welch said. “But we did have several people come in and apply.”

Welch said she hired a woman who worked as a baker before and also a part-time dishwasher.

“Last time I put an ad up, I did have a lady apply who was very destitute,” Welch said. “She had moved here as single mother, and I felt so sorry, but didn’t have anything because that position was filled so quickly.”

Ballard said no matter what the jobless numbers are, there are still approximately 100 people coming through the WIN Job Center daily since various services are offered there.

“Some people (who come through) aren’t unemployed, they just want to change jobs,” Ballard said. “And they come to us for training and different things.”