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Alabama’s jobless rate hits 1-year low

Alabama’s July unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent, down from 10.3 percent in June.

That’s especially good news as reported by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations because the 9.7 percent rate is the lowest recorded in the state in 15 months.

Marsha Gaylard, Pike County Economic Development Corp. president, said any time there is a drop in the unemployment rate, that’s an encouraging sign.

“Here in Pike County, our unemployment rate has been the third or fourth lowest in the state for some time,” she said. “So, we have been very fortunate that our industries have been able to survive during this down-turn in the economy.

“We’ve only lost one industry and we’ve had industries that have expanded during these difficult economic times.”

According to preliminary figures, Pike County’s jobless rate for July was 7.6 percent.

State Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said there are encouraging signs, including the fact that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits for the first time dropped below 2007 levels.

Gov. Bob Riley said Alabama has seen a decline for three months and has landed several major industrial projects during that time, including Hyundai Heavy Industries in Montgomery and Viper Motorcycle Co. in Auburn.

“The trend we are seeing is positive,” he said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released figures Friday showing that Alabama’s rate was better than its neighbors, with Tennessee coming in at 9.8 percent, Georgia at 9.9 percent, Mississippi at 10.8 percent and Florida at 11.5 percent.

Despite Alabama’s improvement, the state remains above the national average of 9.5 percent unemployment. Alabama’s rate a year ago was 10.5 percent and the national rate was 9.4 percent.

Sam Addy, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, said the slow, steady change during the last three months reflects improvements in Alabama’s manufacturing business, particularly autos, the hiring of more temporary workers, and the impact of federal stimulus funds.

He expects the trend of slow improvement to continue, with some bumps along the way.

In Pike County, Gaylard attributed the lower rates to food and defense-type industries which usually do better than others when the economy is struggling.

“We are fortune to have Lockheed and Sikorsky and several food industries and they provide employment opportunities for a lot of Pike County people,” she said. “We have a diverse economy and our businesses and industries have tightened their belts and are surviving this downturn in the economy.”

The unemployment rate in Pike County is not affected just by lost jobs in Pike County. It is affected by layoffs and closings in other counties where local residents are employed.

“If a Pike County resident works in Dale County and is laid off, the unemployment is recorded in Pike County,” Gaylard said. “It’s the place of residence that counts.”

The drop in the state unemployment rate does not mean that people aren’t looking for work.

“Here in Pike County, we have people looking daily for jobs and many held managers positions or other top positions with companies,” Gaylard said. “Right now, those are the hardest jobs to find.”

As far as recent hirings, Gaylard said CGI hired quite a few recent college graduates and Pike County residents and there is a possibility that other jobs will become available.

July’s rate represents 202,539 unemployed persons, down from 216,501 in June and 221,509 in July 2009. The last time Alabama unemployment rate was at or below 9.7 percent was in April 2009, when the rate was 9.7 percent.

“We are also seeing even more encouraging signs in our monthly data,” Surtees said. “The number of first payments made to unemployment compensation claimants is now below 2007 levels. In July, we also saw the lowest number of weeks claimed so far this year.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.