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Escambia County unemployment rate down

Escambia County’s unemployment rate dropped more than one percentage point from June to July, and the state rate was the lowest in 15 months.

State officials said they hope the lower rates are a trend.

“We are happy to announce a drop in our unemployment rate,” said Tom Surtees, director of the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations. “This is the lowest rate we have seen in over a year. We’ve seen our rate stabilizing over the past several months, and, hopefully, July’s rate will be the beginning of a continual drop in Alabama’s unemployment.”

Escambia County’s July unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, down from 12 percent in June and down from 13.5 percent a year ago.

The rates represent 14,330 people in the labor force in July, with 1,564 unemployed. In June, the labor force was at 14,298, with 1,713 unemployed. In July 2009, the labor force was 14,667, with 1,975 unemployed.

“Our unemployment rate is at its lowest level since April 2009,” Gov. Bob Riley said. “We’ve seen a decline for three straight months, and the number of Alabamians filing for first-time unemployment benefits is now below 2007 levels. The trend we’re seeing is positive, and with the new job announcements we’ve had recently, I believe that trend will stay positive unless Congress raises taxes.”

The last time Alabama’s unemployment rate was at or below 9.7 percent was in April 2009, when the rate was 9.7 percent.

“We are also seeing even more encouraging signs in our monthly data,” Surtees said. “The number of first payments made to unemployment compensation claimants is now below 2007 levels. In July, we also saw the lowest number of weeks claimed so far this year.”

First payments in July were 12,774, compared to July 2007’s level of 13,454. The average number of weeks claimed in July was 193,502, compared to this year’s high of 273,448 in March.

Riley pointed to a new report issued Thursday from the Congressional Budget Office, which says extending tax cuts would help create jobs.

“Congress has until Dec. 31 to act,” Riley said. “Raising taxes when the economy is struggling to recover is simply bad idea.”

Conecuh County’s unemployment rate was at 16.1 percent in July, down from 17.2 percent the previous month. Monroe County’s rate was 16.8 percent in July, down from 18.2 percent in June.

The counties with the lowest unemployment rates were: Shelby at 6.8 percent, Madison at 7.3 percent, and Coffee at 7.4 percent. Counties with the highest unemployment rate were Wilcox at 21.9 percent, Greene at 19.0 percent and Dallas at 18.3 percent.