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June unemployment creeps to 10.1 percent

By By Lydia Grimes
Alabama’s unemployment rate creeped into the double digits last month, and Escambia County’s rate was up more than a percentage point from the previous month.
The county’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent, representing 1,930 people unemployed. The state’s rate was 10.1 percent, up from 9.8 percent in May. The national rate in June was 9.5 percent.
Escambia County’s rate was 11.4 percent in May and 7.1 percent a year ago.
In the past year, as the national economy has also foundered, a number of companies have had small layoffs in the area, and nearby Monroe and Conecuh counties have seen the closings of plants where many area residents were employed. Brewton’s Citation has been rumored to have laid off about 100 people in the past six months, although company officials have refused to confirm those numbers.
But a workforce development leader told Escambia County commissioner last week that the employment picture in southwest Alabama could be improving.
Shipbuilder Austal has plans to add 1,500 welders to its staff — 100 per month for the next 15 months, said Al Etheridge, coordinator for the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council.
Steelmaker ThyssenKrupp has set back its timetable to open a steel plant in north Mobile County, but construction is under way. And EADS-Northrup Grumman are still in the running for a contract to build Air Force tankers in Mobile.
Despite those plans, Etheridge acknowledged to commissioners that the employment picture today is very different from future hopes and from past years.
When the workforce development council was initiated, Etheridge said, much of its work involved helping industries in the region overcome a labor shortage.
With changes in the economy, “we’re seeing a lot of people retooling their skills,” he said.
And not only do they need skills for new jobs, they need skills to land new jobs. The workforce development council has held seminars for job seekers trying to find employment through new technology.
Likewise, the Department of Industrial Relations has increased its call center personnel by 55 percent since last April, when the state jobless rate began seeing effects of the recession, Surtees said.
In addition, 20 new employees will begin taking calls from jobless claimants next week, with their primary function to initial Internet claims.
Despite a higher unemployment rate this month, Escambia County’s rate remains in the mid-range in the state. In fact, the county’s rate is the lowest among the five counties with which it shares an economic development partnership, the Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority.
Conecuh County was at 17.2 percent unemployment in June, with Monroe County at 18.1 percent and Clarke County at 15.3 percent. Washington County was at 14.8 percent.
Covington County had a 9.4 percent jobless rate, while Baldwin’s was at 8.4 percent and Mobile’s was at 10.7 percent.
Alabamians who need to file for unemployment benefits can file on the internet at www.dir.alabama.gov or call 1-866-234-5382.