Just two years after hitting a record low, the unemployment rate in Alabama climbed to 10.9 percent in October, the highest it has been in more than 25 years, state officials announced Friday.
The rate rose from 10.7 percent in September and was worse than the national jobless rate of 10.2 percent for October.
The 10.9 percent unemployment rate matches the figure last reached in February 1984 when Alabama was struggling in another deep national recession. It also comes just two years after hitting a record low of 3.1 percent for October of 2007.
Alabama Department of Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said the rate represents nearly 227,000 people who were unemployed in the state in October, up from about 223,000 in September.
Surtees said job gains in October were in government, professional and business services, trade, transportation, utilities and educational and health services. He said job losses were in financial services, manufacturing, natural resources and mining.
Surtees said one bright spot was that Alabama has already begun paying an extension of federal unemployment benefits that was signed into law on Nov. 6.
"We are doing everything possible to get these funds circulating in Alabama as quickly as we can," Surtees said.
Sam Addy, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, said he expects the jobless rate to go over 11 percent and continue to rise until late 2010.
"It's going to peak somewhere over 11 percent before heading in the other direction," Addy said.
He said he expects it will be 2013 or 2014 before the state's unemployment rate returns to lower levels.
The unemployment rate for October was highest in Wilcox County at 25.1 percent, followed by Dallas County at 21.9 percent and Conecuh County at 20.5 percent. Unemployment was the lowest in Shelby County, with 7.4 percent, Madison County at 7.5 percent and Coffee County at 8.3 percent.
The highest unemployment in the state continued to be in mostly rural southwest Alabama counties, which have been hit hard by layoffs in the timber and apparel industries.
John Clyde Riggs, director of the Tennessee Tombigbee Regional Commission in Camden, said the unemployment rate is about 18 percent in the 10 mostly low-income southwest Alabama counties included in his group.
"This is a huge setback in trying to raise the quality of life for the people in southwest Alabama. I fear we have not reached the bottom yet," Riggs said.
In Wilcox County, Riggs said he believes unemployment may actually be as high as 35 percent.
"I guarantee you that rate is higher if you measure people who are not even looking for jobs anymore," said Riggs, who pointed out that southwest Alabama tends to lag behind the rest of the state even in good economic times.