MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley campaigned on a promise that he wouldn't take a paycheck until the state reached full employment. New figures show he'll probably continue his self-imposed promise; unemployment rates jumped to 9.6 percent for May, up from 9.3 percent the previous month. In two months the rate has climbed nearly a full percentage point.
To be fair, the rate jump was expected. Several factors combined to force the increase, including destruction from the historic April tornadoes that killed hundreds of people and put thousands of survivors out of work.
Though the storms happened in April, they occurred so late in the month - on the 27th - that their effects did not figure into the state's calculation of April's jobless figures. The state knew they were looking at some 6,400 storm-related unemployment claims that would roll over to the next month.
Alabama Department of Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said Friday the rate represents about 207,000 people, up about 7,000 from the previous report. The figures also show that Alabama's unemployment rate in May 2011 was higher than at the same point in 2010 when it sat at 9.5 percent.
Alabama is also above the national unemployment rate, which is growing, but is currently at 9.1 percent.
"While we are disappointed to report an increase of three-tenths of a point in our unemployment rate, we have to keep the big picture in mind," said Surtees. "We knew that the devastating storms we suffered in April were going to have an impact on unemployment."
Surtees said he wouldn't go so far as to blame the entire increase on the storms, but considers it a "major factor."
Other factors Surtees cites for the rising jobless rate:
- May is historically a month when the labor force increases. High school and college students graduate and flood into the job market. When they can't find a job, such as is the current problem, they become part of the unemployment rate.
- Some who gave up on finding a job have started searching again.
- An upward trend in the national unemployment rate.
There is a small bright spot, Surtees says, after reading a study published by the Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research. The April storms costs between 5-13 thousand jobs, but recovery activities will create some 50,000 jobs. The down side: Those recovery jobs are short term.
Shelby County continues to lead the state with the lowest unemployment rate: 6.9 percent, while Wilcox County remains the highest unemployed county in the state with a 21.7 percent jobless rate.