Milam unemployment ticks down

Post-Alcoa era may be ‘bottoming out’ as more local hiring reported
Reporter Editor

There aren’t many places in Texas where an 8.8-percent unemployment rate could be viewed as economic progress, but Milam County is one of them.

That’s what Milam’s rate was in February as the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) issued its most recent numbers on Monday, numbers that showed a bit of much-needed positive momentum for a county attempting to recover from the shutdown of Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations smelter.

The 8.8-percent rate—a half-point drop in one month—is significant because:

• It matches the lowest monthly unemployment rate since Alcoa shut down the smelter in 2008-09. The rate was also 8.8 in December, 2011.

• Milam’s unemployment rate has now been below 10 percent for five straight months and 9.0 percent or lower for three of the last four months. It had been 9.0 or higher for 35 consecutive months prior to November, 2011.

• Milam County’s rate is now virtually the same as the national unemployment rate of 8.7 percent. (Texas’ rate is 7.2 percent; all numbers in this report are not seasonally adjusted).

• The February, 2012, rate is down significantly from rates in the past three Februaries, 10.6 in 2011, 10.8 in 2010 and 11.4 in 2009.

FLIP A COIN—But, as most number crunchers will tell you, it’s all in how you interpret the figures.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve been filling more positions out of our local office since the first of the year,” Cindy Jerman, coordinator for the Rockdale office of Workforce Solutions of Texas, said. “And these are not employers filling old positions, they are hiring new staff.”

At the same time, part of the trend could be explained as persons whose unemployment benefits have run out, who are not yet seeking new jobs and would not yet be counted as part of the labor force.

“About four different unemployment benefit extensions have run out in recent months, pretty much since the first of November, Jerman said. “Those people may or may not be looking for new jobs.”

However Workforce Solutions visits by those seeking jobs hasn’t flagged a bit. “We’re still seeing 2,700 persons a month,” Jerman said.

LABOR FORCE—The TWC figures released Monday show Milam County with a civilian labor force of 10,884, of which 9,927 are employed and 957 unemployed.

All three numbers are down from the February, 2011 figures, which showed a labor force of 11,288 with 10,138 employed and 1,150 unemployed, for an unemployment rate of 10.2.

RECENT HISTORY—To date, Milam County’s post-Alcoa unemployment rate peaked at 11.6 percent in June, 2009.

It’s been above 11 percent eight times—most recently at 11.1 in January, 2011, and above 10 percent 31 times.

In April, 2008, before Alcoa announced the first of two threepotline shutdowns at the six-potline plant, Milam’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent.

By January, 2011, it had jumped to 11.1 percent.

Before the Alcoa layoffs started in summer, 2008, the Rockdale plant employed 1,084 persons, including 364 Rockdale residents.

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