The other hand

Milam unemployment news hard to interpret but better than alternative

One of the running gags in the classic play and film “Fiddler on the Roof” comes when Tevye, the protagonist, sits down to try and make any kind of logical decision.

He appears to have made it, then go “on the other hand” and think of reasons why the opposite decision is better. Sometimes there are five or six “other hands” and he’s lost his grip on his original question.

That’s kind of the way it is with the recent unemployment statistics for Milam County, which are trending downward in recent months, the first welcome downward trend since Alcoa closed its smelter four years ago.

On the other hand, the most recent rate, 8.8 percent, is certainly nothing to feel great about. It’s roughly twice that of our neighboring counties.

On the other hand, it’s down substantially from the past few years. The rate was above 10 percent for most of the previous three years, above 11 percent eight times.

On the other hand, at least part of that decline can be attributed to persons who have simply stopped looking for jobs. In late 2011 the last in a series of unemployment insurance extensions ran out.

On the other hand, local officials report more hiring has actually gone on here since the first of the year. It’s not huge, it’s not Alcoa, but it’s there. And the hiring, officials say, is not replacement of current jobs, it’s new positions. Health care, particularly, is becoming a bright spot for Rockdale and Milam County.

On the other hand, we’re not far from the end of school, a time when more people will be looking for work and the unemployment rate usually ticks back upwards, something that could easily wipe out Milam County’s recent fragile gains.

Enough hands. What’s the bottom line. Maybe, for the moment, it’s as simple as this. Our county’s unemployment rate is (finally) trending down. That’s a lot better than the alternative, trending up.—M.B.

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