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Alabama unemployment rate down to 6.8 percent

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's unemployment rate has declined slightly to 6.8 percent, which is below neighboring states and the national average.

Gov. Robert Bentley announced Friday the May rate was down from 6.9 percent in April and was well below last May's rate of 7.5 percent. Alabama's rate was better than the national average of 7.6 percent. Among Alabama's neighboring states, Mississippi tied Illinois for the nation's second highest rate at 9.1 percent. Georgia and Tennessee measured 8.3 percent and Florida had 7.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of people unemployed in Alabama in May dropped by about 2,600 to 147,788, and the number of people employed increased by more than 6,000 to 2.03 million, the state Department of Labor reported.

"We are continuing to move in the right direction, and we are working every day to recruit more jobs to Alabama," said Bentley, who spent the first part of the week at the Paris Air Show trying to recruit suppliers for the Airbus aircraft assembly plant scheduled for construction in Mobile.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama was one of 25 states that had declining unemployment in May.

Alabama's declining rate was driven by the start of the tourist season and 4,200 more jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry. Jobs in professional and business services increased by 1,900. Jobs in educational and health services dropped by 1,400, while government jobs fell by 1,300.

State Labor Commissioner Tom Surtees said unemployment performance measures were at their lowest levels in recent years. For instance, initial claims for unemployment in May were 20,553, compared to a high of 66,249 in December 2008. Benefit payments were $21.2 million, compared to a high of $69.8 million in June 2009.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were Shelby at 4.3 percent, Blount and Lee at 5.0 percent, and Autauga and Cullman at 5.4 percent. Counties with the highest rates were Wilcox at 14.7 percent, Perry at 12.6 percent and Dallas at 12.5 percent.