Unemployment numbers sobering

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Published: March 9,2009

Disappointed. Frustrated. Worried. Those are the adjectives Ralph Goss, manager of the WIN Job Center in Louisville, uses to describe the atmosphere in Winston County.

“It’s tough when you go from a weekly paycheck of $400 or $500 to $200-something a week in unemployment,” Goss said. “We’re seeing a lot of frustration and a lot of disappointment. And, we are definitely seeing more and more people in our office.”

Winston County is not the only community feeling the bite of joblessness. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has released the state’s unemployment figures for January, and they are sobering. The state’s unemployment rate stood at 9.2 percent. The U.S. average was 8.5 percent.

More troubling than the January rate is how fast joblessness increased in just one month. The state’s average in December 2008 was 7.6 percent. Thus, the state’s unemployment rate jumped an incredible 1.6 percent in a mere month.

All 82 counties saw unemployment rates rise in January.
Winston County’s rate in December was 9.6 percent. In January, it sat at 15.1 percent, an incredible 5.5 percent jump, almost as much as Rankin County’s unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, which was the lowest in Mississippi in January.

In Winston County’s case, the largest month-over-month increase in the Magnolia State can be attributed to three events, according to Goss. Georgia-Pacific closed. Taylor Machine Works Inc. laid off approximately half of its workforce, as did WCM, a cabinet-making business.

Goss said these three events have one thing in common — the ailing economy. Georgia-Pacific and WCM provide building materials and products. With the fall in construction, they have suffered and either closed or slashed their workforce. Taylor Machine Works manufacturers industrial lift equipment, and has also seen its business impacted by the national and global meltdown.

The growing ranks of the unemployed in Winston County are impacting retailers, said Linda Skelton, director of the chamber of commerce and Main Street program.

“Sales are slow,” she said succinctly.

However, Skelton said while merchants and the citizens are down, they are not out. In fact, some have become outright belligerent when it comes to the “R” word.

“I had a merchant tell me the other day, ‘We refuse to participate in the recession,’” Skelton said with a laugh. “Now, that’s pretty bold.”

That “can-do” spirit is evident in other counties, as well. Tishomingo County’s unemployment rate in December was 11 percent. In January, it had risen to 14.6 percent.

Despite this nearly four percent spike in joblessness, Gary Matthews, executive director of the Tishomingo County Development Foundation, remains upbeat. His outlook was no doubt brightened when Alliant Techsystems Inc. in early February announced a major expansion in Iuka, not only keeping the 176 jobs already there, but also growing the plant’s workforce to 800 over the next eight years.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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