October 31, 2012 10:05:03 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
September unemployment rates showed a gradual decline for counties in and around the Golden Triangle compared to last year's statistics. According to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, 22 counties in Mississippi posted unemployment rates below the state's nine percent average.
Rankin County reported the lowest unemployment rate for September -- 5.9 percent -- followed by Madison County at 6.5 percent and DeSoto and Lafayette counties at 6.6 percent. Four counties reported rates higher than 15 percent.
Lowndes County numbers dropped more than two points, from 11.8 percent a year ago to 9.7 percent last month. The drop in unemployment moved Lowndes County to 37th out of 82 counties in the state. Out of a workforce of more than 26,000, 23,850 people are employed.
"I think we can see that more people are going back to work," said MDE labor analyst Mary Willoughby. "Unemployment numbers are down across the state from last year."
Clay County had the highest unemployment rate for September at 17.1 percent, followed by Holmes County at 16 percent. But with a new megasite looking for tenants, some Clay County officials are hoping for better days.
"It's definitely going to help," Clay County Supervisor Luke Lummus said Tuesday night at the unveiling of the 1,100-acre Prairie Belt Powersite, located northeast of West Point.
Oktibbeha County also saw a decline in September, from 10.2 percent in 2011 to 8.5 percent this year. Noxubee County stayed well above the state's average, with 15.4 percent unemployment. It is a decrease from 18.8 percent in September 2011.
While the numbers are encouraging, the fact that almost 24,000 Lowndes County residents are without work is a stark reminder of the human toll of the slow recovery.
"John" is a lifelong resident of Lowndes County. He was 38 when he lost a job he had held for more than a decade. He has been unemployed for 13 months. And after filing more than 45 job applications, he says he is worried he will never get another job.
"I have survived by cashing in my 401K and living off my retirement," John said. "I have filled out applications online, answered ads in the paper and applied in person. I have been to two temporary staffing agencies in town. It has been very frustrating. I feel like I'm trying to find my place. I've lost my sense of belonging. I feel like I've been left out in the cold. I have always worked. I have worked for more than 25 years. I had to apply for food stamps -- I have never had any type of government assistance, but I'm glad it was there."
Although John maintains he has been able to pay his bills through his retirement funds, he says he is fearful of a future without any retirement. He feels he isn't being hired because of his age and his past.
"I'm not a young college-aged person -- I'm almost 50," John said. "I feel this has definitely been a factor in keeping me from getting a job. I was also convicted of a non-violent felony more than 15 years ago, and it continues to show up on my background checks. I did my time and made my restitution and did everything that was required by the courts. I was under the impression my rights would be mostly restored after I completed my obligations to the court. I have had it expunged from my record, but that cost even more money, because I had to have it done through an attorney."
John's plight as an unemployed worker in Lowndes County may be coming to an end. With a solid prospect on his horizon, John may soon have a steady job again.
"I have something that looks like a for-sure deal," he said. "I've been honest with them about my past, and I have shown them the court order where my record has been expunged. I've gotten through the past 13 months through my faith in God and through the support of my family and friends. It's been really hard. I have had times when I thought about giving up, but through my support network I was able to hang on one more day."