The Alabama Department of Industrial Relations released new statistics Friday showing the county’s unemployment rate remained unchanged between January and February at 8.3 percent; it was the same day Anniston Army Depot laid off the first 46 of about 480 temporary and term workers.
The rest of the 480 depot workers will lose their jobs in the coming months, a loss which some economists say will have a far-reaching effect throughout the local economy.
“It will not be an inconsequential impact,” said Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Anytime you lose jobs like that, it will have a disproportionate impact on the economy.”
Depot officials announced in early March a schedule for releasing about 480 temporary and term workers from their contracts starting March 30 and ending Sept. 30. The depot is slashing its payroll because of the end of the Iraq War and budget cuts, with employees being released based on workload requirements. Temporary workers are hired for short-term periods based on the Army’s needs, while term workers are hired for between one and four years and their contracts are renewable if there is need for them.
Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University Montgomery, agreed that the loss of so many jobs would hurt much of the county economy.
“There are usually two jobs out there because of one military job,” Deravi said. “I expect between 500 to 600 jobs to be impacted … sales taxes to be impacted and housing prices maybe because of this. There will be an impact, no question about it.”
Even without the expected loss of depot jobs, the February unemployment numbers for the county and state are not encouraging. According to the statistics, the state average unemployment rate decreased to 7.6 percent in February from 7.8 percent in January. Part of the improvement was due to the creation of about 13,700 jobs in the hospitality, manufacturing, construction and business services industry. However, some of the change in the unemployment rate is also attributed to the number of unemployed Alabamians who are no longer being counted in the statistics. For instance, the state’s unemployment rate decreased even though the average number of employed in the state also decreased by 4,326 people.
“The rate is not going down because we’re creating jobs but because people are leaving the market,” Deravi said.
Robicheaux said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which generates the unemployment numbers for the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, uses a system that does not count people who have given up searching for work.
“The statistics count only people the government believes are looking for and trying to get jobs,” Robicheaux said. “As a result, the number of people without jobs in Alabama is actually far greater than 7.6 percent.”
As for those losing their jobs at the depot, many are receiving help. In anticipation of the layoffs, depot officials established a Transition Assistance Office in conjunction with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center and the Depot’s Training Office.
Sherri Sumners, president of the chamber, said around 300 depot workers have already registered with the transition office. Sumners said a few have already been placed in new jobs.
“The numbers are relatively small at this point, but some are still in the process,” Sumners said.
Sumners did not have exact numbers of depot workers with new jobs available.
Sumners said the program has proceeded well so far.
“It has been really well received,” she said. “We’ve had cooperation with employers who have given us notice of job openings.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star