ANNISTON -- Unemployment rose in Alabama in September, according to numbers released Friday by the Alabama Department of Labor. The numbers for Anniston were particularly grim.
Within Anniston city limits, 11.4 percent of the workforce was unemployed, up from 10 percent in August.
In Talladega County, the jobless rate rose from 6 percent in August to 6.8 percent for September. St. Clair County also saw its unemployment numbers rise, from 4.5 percent in August to 5.1 percent in September.
Statewide, unemployment reached 6.6 percent, up from 5.6 percent in August.
Calhoun County’s unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.8 percent the month before.
Because some work is seasonal, month-to-month comparisons of unemployment are typically less useful than comparisons to the workforce a year before. But 2020 is no normal economic year. COVID-19 and the stay-home orders intended to halt its spread have blown up the economy Americans knew before the pandemic.
In September 2019, only 2.7 percent of Alabamians were on unemployment. The jobless rate in Anniston was 3.7 percent. In Talladega County, it was 3 percent, and in St. Clair, it was 2.3.
Alabama’s job market cratered after the pandemic arrived in the spring, but during the summer the state saw steady declines in unemployment that seemed to indicate recovery was under way. Still, some economists predicted the economy would run into difficulty in the fall as federal assistance and other measures to boost the economy expired.
“As we continue to gauge the economic impacts of this pandemic, we expect to see fluctuations in our unemployment rate,” Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington was quoted in a press release Friday morning.
There is some recent evidence that local businesses are willing to expand despite this year’s coronavirus-based downturn. Bridgewater Interiors, an Oxford auto manufacturing supplier, this week announced an expansion that will add 35 people to its 350-person workforce. Oxford-based retailer Team Sports recently started construction on a new store in Anniston that could lead to the hiring of five to 10 new employees.
The long-term question is whether gains of that sort can outpace the closures and cutbacks the area suffered in the early phases of the pandemic. That period brought the closure of local businesses big and small, from a Honeywell plant at the Anniston airport — employer of 200 people — to Jacksonville’s Java Jolt cafe.
April LaFollette, director of the Anniston nonprofit Interfaith Ministries, said she has seen a slight increase over the past two weeks in the number of people coming into Interfaith for help with expenses. She noted that throughout the pandemic, demand for Interfaith’s resources hasn’t been as strong as one might expect.
“I’m not seeing the crowd I expected to see,” LaFollette said.
She said it’s likely many people who lost their jobs early in the pandemic had resources to fall back on, including federally boosted unemployment benefits and family members to look to for support. She said it’s been a different story for people at the lowest-earning end of the workforce who, in some cases, aren’t able to draw unemployment.
“It’s those who are truly the poorest, or who were on the edge, who are struggling more — day laborers, people who did lawn maintenance and got paid in cash,” she said.