Area Jobs Return Slowly, But Thousands Are Still Without Work
Unemployment continued to decrease in Tuscaloosa County last month after swelling to a staggering 16.9 percent back in April, but despite encouraging trend, there are still more than 9,000 people who are unemployed in the county -- triple the number reported in March.
“No one has a crystal ball to look into the future but we do see our unemployment rate continuing to go down,” said Donny Jones, the Chief Operating Officer of The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “As small businesses are beginning to reopen and the new normal, which we don’t know what is going to take place when schools open back up...all of our projections show that we are going to have an increase in employment opportunities.”
Some of those opportunities include 100 jobs each at new wood pellet plants coming to Sumter and Marengo and the ever-present need for workers in West Alabama's hearty automotive industry. Jones said the Chamber just finished an automotive hiring fair and that each of the 600 applicants who attended will have an opportunity to work at an area supplier.
“There are jobs coming back online,” Jones said. “Every day, more and more are coming back online. Right now our healthcare facilities are at a critical need, healthcare workers, and that’s not just nurses; everything from food services to cleaning to HVAC, those are small cities when you talk about DCH Regional Medical Center. There’s a lot of opportunity.”
Unemployment figures vary in West Alabama's counties. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, Tuscaloosa County posted a 9.0 percent unemployment rate in June, but the crisis is more significant in Greene, Hale and Perry Counties, where they reported 14 percent, 11.9 percent and 14.1 percent unemployment rates, respectively.
In some counties, though, the outlook is brighter. Lamar and Marion posted employment rates of 6.2 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively. Both rates are beneath the seasonally adjusted state average unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.
“In some of our counties, people are employed in the foodservice and hospitality industries,” Jones said. “In Lamar County, they are more in the rural sector and they are industry-based. So that’s why as we see more and more jobs being created in manufacturing and in industry, you’re going to see better stability in some of these counties.”
The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama will host additional virtual job fairs for SMP and the DCH Health System during the first two weeks of August.
“If somebody is looking for a job and they are unfortunately implicated by [the coronavirus pandemic] and would like to get a look at what jobs are available they can go to www.westalabamajobs.com," Jones said.