Jobless Rate Climbs To Highest Level In Seven Years

Mississippi's jobless rate rose to its highest level in seven years last month as recent graduates and laid-off workers struggled to find jobs. The statewide unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in June, its highest level since it was 7.4 percent the same month in 1995. The nation's jobless rate was 6 percent in June.

"Traditionally in June the unemployment rate rises as the economy records the full effect of student job seekers,'' said Curt Thompson, executive director of theMississippi Employment Security Commission, which released the new numbers Thursday.

Mississippi also is dealing with the effects of numerous layoffs in the past year. For example, Clarke County's economy was dealt a devastating blow when Burlington Industries closed its Stonewall plant in April and eliminated 816 jobs.

At 19.9 percent, Clarke County's unemployment rate was the highest in the state in June - the second month in a row for that distinction. The rate was 19.3 percent in May.

The MESC has opened an office in Clarke County to help find ways to ease the unemployment problem. In nearby Lauderdale County, economic development officials are working with the state to lure companies that could provide supplies to auto makers in the region.

Wade Jones, director of the East Mississippi Business Development Corps., said the county is ideally suited to be a base for suppliers that could work with Nissan Motor Co. in Mississippi and Hyundai Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz and others in Alabama. Jones said the county has a new, 600-acre industrial park and interstate highway access in Meridian.

"And we definitely have the available work force,'' he said. Paul Mulleins, who runs the Mississippi Development Authority's Asian office, said recently he's been dealing directly with Hyundai trying to recruit suppliers to the Meridian area.

The MDA on Thursday released an analysis of labor needs and other factors related to creating an automotive industry cluster in the state. An industry cluster is a geographic concentration of sometimes-competing, sometimes-collaborating firms. The state will use the analysis as it creates a strategy to attract more automotive jobs.

Nissan, which will begin production in Canton next year, has said it eventually will employ 5,300 people in Mississippi. June saw employment gains in several sectors of the state's economy. The agricultural sector grew by 1,300 jobs and the construction industry added 900 jobs. Also posting increases were the retail trade, health services, amusements and metal products sectors. Thirty-three of the state's 82 counties had double-digit rates.

At the high end, Webster County followed Clarke County with a rate of 19.5 percent. Choctaw County had the third-highest rate at 17.7 percent. Rankin County had the state's lowest rate at 3.3 percent. Lafayette was next at 3.7 percent, followed by DeSoto and Lamar counties at 4.2 percent.