- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s unemployment rate shrunk to a five-year low of 6.1 percent in December, even though fewer people were working than the month before.

Preliminary figures released Friday by the state Department of Labor showed the number of unemployed people declined by 2,558 people from November to 129,743 people in December. But employment also declined by 6,712 people to 1.99 million, and the civilian labor force shrunk by 9,270 to 2.12 million. The figures show Alabama has fewer people working now than it did a year ago, when the unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, because the size labor force has declined over the past year.

Keivan Deravi, an economist with Auburn University at Montgomery, said a significant part of the declining unemployment is due to the long-term unemployed giving up on finding jobs and no longer looking, which means they aren’t counted in the labor force or as unemployed.

The declining unemployment rate “is a mathematical mirage,” the economist said.

The last time Alabama had a rate at or below 6.1 percent was October 2008, when it was 5.9 percent. The Department of Labor said December’s rate of 6.1 percent compares to 6.2 percent in November. Alabama’s rate is below the national average of 6.7 percent.

“While we are certainly pleased to announce that our unemployment rate is at a five-year low, we know that we are not in a perfect situation, employment wise,” Labor Commissioner Tom Surtees said.

Gov. Robert Bentley, who is seeking re-election, noted Friday there are 59,400 more jobs now than when he took office in January 2011, and the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research is forecasting better job growth for the state in 2014.

Not all states have released their unemployment figures for December, but Georgia reported 7.4 percent and Florida 6.2 percent

Alabama counties with the lowest unemployment rates were Shelby at 3.8 percent, Lee at 4.7 percent and St. Clair and Cullman at 4.8 percent.

The counties with the highest rates were Wilcox at 14.2 percent, Bullock at 11.6 percent and Perry at 11.4 percent.

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