The county gained some jobs in May but lost others, much like the rest of the state, indicating to some experts that economic growth has become stagnant. According to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, the county’s unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in May from 6.9 percent in April.
Meanwhile, the number of people working also increased, to 48,507 workers in May from 48,196 in April — a rise of 311 jobs.
The county has struggled with job growth in recent months.
The state saw similar growth in jobs and unemployment. Alabama’s unemployment rate increased to 7.4 percent in May from 7.2 percent in April. State employment increased by about 8,631 jobs during the same time frame, according to the state’s raw figures.
“It’s not super-optimistic in my opinion,” James Cover, professor of economics at the University of Alabama, said of the state’s unemployment rate. “It seems we’re moving along very sluggishly. But we’re certainly not a negative and that’s good.”
Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, agreed the economy was not making many gains.
“Right now it’s still a soft market out there for jobs and companies are being very careful in their consideration of expanding their work forces,” Robicheaux said. “But we’re faring better than the national average, which is a good thing.”
According to the department, the national unemployment rate increased slightly in May to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent in April.
Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said manufacturing, particularly automotive, has slowed due to a drop in demand. The drop has slowed economic growth down, he said.
“There had been pent-up demand for automobiles, which caused manufacturing to go up,” Deravi said. “But that growth was actually not sustainable.”
The department added that along with some job growth, May unemployment compensation claims indicated the state economy was improving. Initial state claims for benefits were down 34.7 percent in May compared to last year.
However, Robicheaux noted, many of the state’s employment gains could be attributed to temporary seasonal work such as summer retail jobs.
“You expect to see some increase from college graduates entering the work force,” Robicheaux said.
The department statistics show the county gained about 100 jobs in retail in May.
Nancy King Dennis, director of public relations for the Alabama Retail Association, said retailers do most of their summer hiring in May.
“I’ve talked to some retailers and they say they are doing more hiring this summer than past summers,” Dennis said.
Though manufacturing may be slowing down, retail in the state has done relatively well this year, Dennis said. Total sales tax revenue collected in April in Alabama was $14.12 billion — a 1.2 percent increase from the amount of sales tax collected in April of last year, she said.
“We think that has to do with the fact that Easter was at the first of the month this year instead of the end of the month,” Dennis said. “And it’s been relatively dry … there has not been a lot of bad weather … so that has maybe gotten people out to spend more.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star