August 22, 2013 9:51:26 AM
Unemployment numbers in the Golden Triangle and across the state decreased noticeably in July.
With the exception of Clay County, the rates were down at least more than one percentage point in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which released updated figures Wednesday.
In Clay County, July's unemployment rate in July 2012 was at 19 percent -- the same as last month. That rate was the highest out of the state's 82 counties.
But Lowndes County's rate fell from 10.7 percent in July 2012 to 9.5 percent last month and Noxubee County's rate fell from 16.7 percent in July 2012 to 15.1 last month.
Oktibbeha County saw nearly a two percent decrease, according to state estimates. Its rate was 9.7 percent last month compared to 11.5 in July 2012.
The approximate amount of people actively looking for work was 1,410 in Clay County, 2,590 in Lowndes County, 1,920 in Oktibbeha County and 580 in Noxubee County.
Statewide, the approximate unemployment number was 112,300, or 8.6 percent. That's almost a full percentage point over the nationwide unemployment rate of 7.7, according to the state's data.
WIN Job Center Lowndes County branch director Billy Hamilton said he's seen a slow but steady increase in the amount of advertising for job openings in the manufacturing, retail and service industries.
Many inquiries he's received have been regarding the Yokohama Tire plant in Clay County that is scheduled to open in 2015. He's also gotten calls about the possibility of KiOR building a second plant in Lowndes County.
"Most people coming here are just looking for work, mostly factory jobs. They're very excited about Yokohama coming to town. We get constant calls about that," Harrison said. "You see the one percent decrease because industries are slowly hiring. Overall, I think eventually, it's going to pick up."
MDES chief of labor market information Mary Willoughby said July numbers typically reflect a large amount of high school and college students who have been unable to find work during the summer months. Last month, the number of employed people increased by 7,200, but the amount of unemployed decreased 16,600. The significant improvement does not follow the normal July pattern and should be viewed with cautious optimism, she said.
"It looks like it may have just occurred a month earlier than we expected," she said. "There are several factors in computing the unemployment rates. The current population survey the census bureau does is one factor. All of this is an estimate, and it depends on who is in that survey."
Willoughby said the rates in future months will serve as a better barometer for true improvement.
"I'm not saying the numbers are wrong, but I really want to wait and see what it does next month and the month after to see if it stays in this pattern.
If it drops again in August like it normally would when high school and college students go back and drop out of the labor force, then I would think it's a downward trend," she said. "If you look over the year, the rate has been looking better. It has a typical pattern and it hasn't been going up like it has been. It's edging down a little. It's just when it's that dramatic, you really want to make sure. Hopefully, it's right and the business are starting to hire more people and they have more confidence."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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