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Alabama unemployment drops to 6.5 percent

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's unemployment rate dropped to 6.5 percent in June, the lowest in more than four years.

The state Department of Labor said the June rate was down from 6.8 percent in May, and it was the lowest since Alabama recorded the same figure in November 2008. It was also below the national figure of 7.6 percent.

The rate was supposed to be announced Friday, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inadvertently released it Thursday. State officials then provided details of the new rate.

Gov. Robert Bentley said Alabama's rate had come down from 7.6 percent a year ago due to nearly 34,000 more people working and almost 24,000 fewer looking for jobs.

Ahmad Ijaz, an economic researcher at the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research, said he expects the rate to keep declining gradually over the long run because the economy is adding jobs, even if it is not as fast as people would like

The seasonally adjusted figures for the number of unemployed people in Alabama dropped by more than 6,500, but the number working dropped by 3,700. The civilian labor force went down by 11,000. The labor force had been growing in recent months because discouraged workers who had quit looking for work had started seeking jobs and were again counted among the unemployed.

Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said it is normal for the long-term unemployed to resume a job search when the economy improves and then stop looking for work when they don't find a job. That causes them to go in and out of the civilian labor force. He said Alabama's 6.5 percent rate could cause some of those same people to resume their job searches and cause the state rate to go up slightly in July.

He said that variation is one reason the unemployment rate is not a precise indicator of the economy.

State Labor Commissioner Tom Surtees said the lack of growth in the labor force and in the number employed "is not anything to be terribly concerned about" because the numbers are seasonally adjusted to accommodate the influx of summer job seekers and new graduates.

Reflecting the summer season, Alabama saw a gain of 4,600 jobs in leisure and hospitality and 1,800 jobs in construction. Government jobs declined by 2,500 and educational and health services jobs by 1,700.

Counties with the lowest unemployment were Shelby at 4.5 percent, Cullman at 5.6 percent, and Limestone and Baldwin at 5.7 percent. Counties with the highest rates were Wilcox at 15.8 percent, Perry at 14.0 percent, and Dallas at 13.4 percent.