State sees record-setting low unemployment

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Published: April 20,1998

The state’s unemployment rate for 1997 was the lowest in two decades, with particularly low rates in Lafayette, Desoto, Rankin, Jones and Forrest counties. But the low unemployment rate doesn’t appear to be harming state businesses or efforts to attract new industry to the state.

“Of course the low unemployment rate is good news from the standpoint that more Mississippians are employed than ever before,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). “When you deal with the unemployment rate, that is basically the people who are looking for a job. There are a lot of other people out there who, if the right job came along, would get involved in the labor force.”

Heidel said lower unemployment rates mean it takes more work to attract industry. For example, DECD will survey an area being considered by a prospective industry to determine if skilled workers are available. But once it can be proven the labor pool is available, the state’s low unemployment rate is no longer a disincentive to recruiting the industry.

DECD is also recruiting from outside the state. About a year ago the agency made an effort to attract Mississippi college and university graduates to return to Mississippi. About 1,000 resumes were received from alumni who would like to return to Mississippi to live.

Job fairs sponsored by DECD and other agencies have recently been held in Jackson and on the Coast. The Jackson Job Fair attracted 6,000 applicants and 116 employers, and a fob fair on the Coast attracted 185 employers.

Those unable to attend the job fairs can still participate by submiting resumes by e-mail to jobfair@mesc.state.ms.us. The names of three businesses to receive the resume should be included with the e-mail. Also, the Mississippi Employment Security Commission has a Web site that includes information about employment trends in Mississippi, and jobs available in the state. The Web site is: www. mesc.state.ms.us.

Statewide in February 1998, 1,208,200 people were employed, an all-time high. Unemployment statewide for that month was 5.4%.

Representatives from temporary staffing agencies said the low unemployment rates represent a challenge for recruiting dependable and qualified employees, but aren’t really causing a labor crunch.

“We’re not seeing any evidence of a labor shortage related to a low unemployment rate,” said Tom Wall Sr., president Jackson Temporaries, which provides clerical employees, and Staffco, who specializes in industrial and technical workers. “We’ve had no time recruiting people. We’ve always experienced a shortage of dependable, skilled workers. That is just an ongoing problem. There is always a need for dependable, skilled workers. There are plenty of folks out there that are unemployed. It is just a matter of attracting them into a company.”

Wall said it is also a matter of people who are unemployed wanting to work; if someone really wants to work, they can find a job.

“At the same time I can fill just about any job,” Wall said. “It takes a little longer when you are talking about skills like a certified welder. That’s where the shortage is.”

Far from suffering from a tighter employment market, in the past four years Wall’s companies have doubled the amount of business they do.

“According to national statistics, there is definitely an increase in the use of temporaries across the nation,” Wall said. “Actually we’re no longer in the temporary business. At least 80% of our business is recruiting. Someone hires a temporary and if they work out and do a good job, they are hired.”

Wall said companies are using temporary staffing companies more and more to find good employees. He said one advantage is cost, which can be only about a quarter of the cost of using a head hunter.

Renae Matheny, manager of Hattiesburg office of Multi-Temps, said another advantage of using temporary companies to find new employees is that it gives the opportunity to “test run” the employee.

“Office chemistry is really important,” Matheny said. “You don’t want to place a very serious person in an office of people who joke around a lot. Most staffing agencies allow a period of two months where you can try out an employee. The honeymoon is over after the first month, and you’ll see if the employee has a good work ethic and comes to work on time.”

She said using a temporary avoids the problem of having to fire someone if they don’t work out. And the process can save a lot of time. The temporary agency recruits, tests and places the employee. If it doesn’t work out, another employee is provided.

Matheny said low unemployment rates in the Hattiesburg/Laurel area making it a challenge to recruit new employees. Lamar County has an unemployment rate of 2.1%, Forrest County, 3% and Jones County, 3.5%.

“Low unemployment rates affect everything,” Matheny said. “You have a smaller pool of people available to fill jobs.”

Matheny said a large amount of growth in Hattiesburg and Laurel have created a lot of new jobs. “You have just so many people and the jobs just keep coming,” she said. “Pretty soon you have more jobs than people if you keep it up. But life tends to fix that. Where there are jobs, people come.

So it may be more difficult in recruiting really good people, but I think it goes in cycles. One week we’ll have a ton of people come in to put in applications, and then a week or two may go by with few new applications.”

Matheny said she hasn’t really seen the low unemployment rates have an upward pressure on wages in the Pine Belt area. But it is difficult to keep people in minimum wage jobs because of the difficulty living on that amount of income, particularly if there is a family to support. Minimum wage workers gravitate to better paying jobs, and minimum wage employees have to continually train new workers to replaced them. She said businesses might find it more economical to pay better, and not have to spend so much time and efforts constantly training new people for the jobs.


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