Unemployment in state, Walker leaps to 12.9%

By ED HOWELL
Posted 5/23/20

Alabama in April posted its highest unemployment rate in over 37 years, with the state and Walker County both posting a rate of 12.9 percent - and providing the biggest measure yet of the full economic impact of the coronavirus. 

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Unemployment in state, Walker leaps to 12.9%

Posted

Alabama in April posted its highest unemployment rate in over 37 years, with the state and Walker County both posting a rate of 12.9 percent - and providing the biggest measure yet of the full economic impact of the coronavirus. 

The Alabama Department of Labor, which posted the figures on Friday, last month pointed to the importance of the April figures.  It also posted more information in its May labor market newsletter, also posted Friday. 

The seasonally adjusted state figure was up from 3 percent in March and above April 2019's rate of 3.2 percent, at a time when state officials boasted of historically low jobless rates. 

According to AL.com, the state rate is the worst since December 1982, when it was recorded at 15.2 percent. The total number of weekly initial claims for unemployment in the state since the pandemic started to take hold in Alabama in March topped 500,000 this week, and the claims this week have been the lowest since March. 

Meanwhile, the seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent to 14.7 percent in April. The figure in April 2019 had been 3.6 percent. Nationally the number of unemployed rose from 7.14 million in March to just over 23 million in April. The civilian labor force in the U.S. decreased from 162.9 million to nearly 156.5 million. 

Walker County rose from 3.4 percent in March to 12.9 percent in April, while its rate in April 2019 had been 2.8 percent. While an estimated 855 people had been unemployed in March, that figure rose to 3,203 in April. The civilian labor force decreased from 25,182 people in March to 24,827 workers in April. 

"April’s rate represents 283,787 unemployed persons, representing an increase of 216,783 over the month. Those counted as employed decreased to 1,911,512 in April, down from March’s count of 2,151,586," the state said in a release. 

Unemployment rates for surrounding counties included Winston, 10.4 percent (up from 3.3 percent, and 12th lowest in the state); Tuscaloosa, 16.8 percent (up from 2.6 percent, and ranking as the 13th highest in the state); Marion, 11.1 percent (up from 3.4 percent, and 17th lowest in the state); Jefferson, 12.6 percent (up from 2.8 percent); Fayette, 11.1 percent (up from 2.9 percent, and 18th lowest in the state); Cullman, 11.7 percent (up from 2.6 percent); and Blount, 9.5 percent (up from 2.7 percent). 

Blount was only one of nine counties, out of 67 in the state, with single-digit unemployment, the lowest being 8.1 percent in Geneva County. Even Shelby County was at 9.2 percent, rising a full 7 percent.

Lowndes County was highest at 26 percent, one of six counties at 20 percent or more. Walker County was 29th highest, with Jefferson County at 30th highest. Cullman County was 29th lowest in the state.

“While we are certainly disappointed to see our unemployment rate rise so sharply this month, it’s not surprising,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in the release. “This global pandemic and national disaster has certainly impacted Alabamians’ ability to work. We know that hundreds of thousands of people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past two months, and we’ve been able to process and pay a great majority of those.  

"We realize there are some still waiting on relief, and we hear and understand their frustration. Please rest assured that my administration is working tirelessly to provide relief to those Alabamians and their families, and I have the utmost confidence in the Alabama Department of Labor and the dedicated state employees there who are working tirelessly to serve their fellow citizens.”

Alabama Secretary of State Fitzgerald Washington said the pandemic had impacted the economy, undoing in two months what had taken years to make progress - with the impact even greater for employers and employees. 

“So many had life altering changes that impacted their families almost overnight," he said. "I want all Alabamians to know that we are working nonstop to help move this recovery along.  We are developing new technologies, adding staff, and making modifications wherever possible to help our workers through this enormously difficult time.”

According to the state release, wage and salary employment in Alabama decreased in April by 201,700.  Monthly losses were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (-79,500), the professional and business services sector (-29,500), the education and health services sector (-26,400), and the manufacturing sector (-24,200), among others. 

Over the year, wage and salary employment decreased by 199,200, with losses in the leisure and hospitality sector (-87,900), the professional and business services sector (-30,800), the education and health services sector (-25,300), and the manufacturing sector (-19,100), among others.

Average weekly wages in the state increased to $908.52 in April, up from $883.17 in March.

The state and local unemployment figures for May will be released June 19.