Laid-off workers finding help at job center|Unemployment still 12.4 percent in Warren County

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Persistence paid off for James Lee, one of several regular visitors to the Vicksburg WIN Job Center in the past few months as the percentage of those unemployed in Warren County and statewide remained in double digits.

Though Lee was hired for an apartment maintenance job, his resume is still on file at the Monroe Street office in case he needs the office’s resources again amid continued hardship for the local job market.

“You never know what can happen,” Lee said while using one of the nearly three dozen computers available to job-seekers to maintain resumes and search for employment online through the state agency office at 1625 Monroe St.

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Johnny Walker said he is hoping that the same persistence can land him the kind of money he was making in the hospitality industry.

Laid off for nearly four months, Walker said he hopes to at least pull down double-digit hourly wages, even if it means working in Jackson or farther from his home here.

“I’m looking for something in the same pay range as before — but at the same time, I can’t be selfish,” he said.

Tuesday, statistics released by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security showed unemployment remained steady but high locally and across the state in February.

Local joblessness was 12.4 percent during the month, down from a revised 12.5 percent calculation for January. The rate represents a jump of more than three points from the revised 9 percent reported for February 2009.

The statewide rate fell similarly in February, to 12 percent from a revised 12.1 percent in January. Nationally, the jobless rate was 10.4 percent, down from 10.6 percent in January. Adjusted for seasonal factors in the work force, the state’s rate becomes 11.4 percent and the nationwide rate becomes 9.7 percent. Unemployment in Mississippi stood at 9.3 percent a year ago, according to adjusted figures.

Rankin County posted the lowest unemployment in February, at 7.9 percent, down a tad from 8 percent in January. Holmes and Noxubee counties recorded the state’s highest, at 23.1 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively. Rates for Issaquena County stood at 18.2 percent, up from 17.4 percent last month. Rates for Sharkey, Claiborne and Jefferson counties stood at 16.6 percent, 18.2 percent and 19.5 percent for the month, all down three-tenths of a point or less since January.

The Labor Department releases its monthly employment report Friday, two days after payroll company ADP released a jobs report. Economists estimate anywhere from 40,000 to 190,000 jobs were added during the month, which would be just the second month of job growth since the recession began in late 2007.

Some promise to the local manufacturing sector arrived this month with job postings by Armstrong World Industries, which announced a restart to its veneer mill at the Port of Vicksburg. Vicksburg WIN Job Center office manager Terry Hodges said 74 applications for employment at the mill were completed through March 19, when details of the company’s immediate plans for the facility were announced. Accounting, maintenance and heavy equipment operators are being sought to staff the plant by late April, and the level of public interest is sure to outpace the 77 people the company has said it will employ at the plant.

Since the start of the state’s fiscal year July 1, approximately 481 people have been placed in jobs with the help of the local employment office, Hodges said. Another 150 have been deemed eligible for new jobs funded by Mississippi STEPS, Hodges said. The federally-based program funds all the wages and benefits of eligible workers for two months, with subsidies tailing off after the sixth month if the worker remains employed.

“What we’re trying to do is reach out to the mom-and-pops,” Hodges said of the program, geared to small employers of 25 to 50 workers. Eligibility for employers is contingent on having a work site located inside the state. Participants must be 18 years old, have a child at home younger than 18 and make no more than 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines, up to families of eight.

Satellite centers are planned next year in Port Gibson and Utica, where a computer lab will allow people to conduct online job searches, Hodges said, adding expansion of the “E-Centers” will involve 27 such facilities statewide.

Legislation brokered mainly by Democrats in the state House of Representatives would allow the state to consider most recent quarters when determining eligibility for unemployment benefits, a change that would enable the state to receive $18.7 million in stimulus funds and save the agency’s authorization for next fiscal year. Gov. Haley Barbour had previously come out against using all of the state’s $56.1 million in stimulus funds for the jobless, but has now said he can compromise on the amount because the current bill doesn’t involve benefits for part-time workers.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at