Unemployment rates in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties inched up in the past 30 days and are about double pre-pandemic levels, but they remain below the statewide rate.
In data released Friday, the Alabama Department of Labor reported the seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate in September was 6.6%, up from 5.6% in August and 2.7% in September 2019. Not seasonally adjusted, and thus comparable to county data, the state's unemployment rate in September was 6.4%.
Morgan County saw its unemployment rate climb from 4.4% in August to 4.8% in September with a loss of 217 jobs. A year ago, Morgan’s unemployment rate was 2.2%, with 1,474 more people employed countywide.
Decatur’s unemployment rate rose from 5.5% in August to 6% in September, with the city losing 125 jobs in the past 30 days. In September 2019, the city’s unemployment rate was 2.2% and the city was employing 916 more workers than last month.
In Limestone County, the unemployment rate rose from 3.8% in August to 4.3% in September. A year ago, the rate was 2.2%. According to the state statistics, Limestone shed 909 jobs in the past 12 months and 200 in the past 30 days.
In Lawrence County, the unemployment rate increased from 4.7% in August to 5.1% in September. In September 2019, the county’s rate was 2.6%. The county lost 350 jobs in the past 12 months, according to Labor Department data.
Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, said north Alabama has been spared from higher unemployment rates because of a diversity of industries.
Limestone County had the 11th lowest unemployment rate out of the state's 67 counties in September, Morgan County had the 19th lowest and Lawrence had the 22nd lowest. Cullman County had the state's lowest unemployment rate at 3.8% and Wilcox County had the highest at 17%.
“Fortunately, many of the major employers here produce a variety of commodities related to essential products necessary for food, plastics and a wide variety of other in-demand consumer goods,” Nails said. “Their stability in maintaining and growing their workforce has helped us keep a relatively low unemployment rate during this pandemic.”
He said, however, additional education and training could help those negatively impacted by job loss.
“Going forward, those who have been laid off or displaced due to COVID may need to look at additional training opportunities for jobs that require additional skill sets,” he said.
John Seymour, president and CEO of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said the spike in coronavirus cases reported in the past two months and the increased risk level as reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health has hurt the local job market. Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties were all categorized as "very high risk," or red, for COVID-19 transmission on Friday. Prior to the last two weeks, Morgan County had been categorized as "very low risk," or green, for eight consecutive weeks.
“Two months ago, the infectious rate here was green,” he said. “Now, we’re red. We will probably see more of the same fluctuation. It’s hard to compare one month to another.”
He said he is encouraged that no major business has closed its doors and “we’ve been able to recruit a number of first-time restaurants to Decatur.”
About 10 new restaurants have opened or announced plans to open in Decatur in recent months.
The state's labor secretary, Fitzgerald Washington, said the unemployment rate will likely continue to rise and fall from month to month during the pandemic.
“In September, we saw fewer people entering the labor force, fewer people working, and more who were counted as unemployed,” he said in a statement. “All of those factors will increase the unemployment rate.”
The Labor Department said 148,912 people in the state were without jobs in September, an increase of 23,057 from a month earlier. In September 2019, 61,495 people were unemployed.
“We did see an increase in the number of jobs the economy is supporting, with a gain of a little more than 9,000,” Washington said, in September compared to August.
Tara Hutchison, spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Labor, is encouraged that retail stores will soon be adding holiday workers.
“We anticipate holiday hiring to pick up soon, but if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that things can always change,” she said.