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November 4, 2013

Emmett Dulaney: Madison County Economic Outlook 2014: Part I

As the year starts to wind down, it is time to take a look at the numbers for the county, attempt to put them in some perspective, and see what the near future might hold. There are so many datasets available that it is easy to get lost in what is meaningful and what is not.

To simplify matters, we will limit the discussion to a few crucial categories – looking only at the first this week — and spread the dialogue over the coming month. At the conclusion of the discussion, we will try to pull the numbers together and build from the foundation they provide. Until then, the discussion will be predominantly positive (in the economic sense of the word) as opposed to normative – describing what is, as opposed to what should be.

Employment and the Labor Force

While unemployment is down for Madison County as compared to the same time period last year (8.6 percent in August compared to 9.8 percent), that does not say much. A rising tide lifts all ships and 89 of the 92 counties in the state have a lower unemployment rate this year as opposed to last. What is a far more meaningful number is that the county’s unemployment rate is 15 percent higher than the state’s rate of 7.5 percent and it has trended at that level – or more – for years.

From a theoretical standpoint, over time those without jobs in the area should move to where employment thrives and the difference between the county average and the state average should decrease. The fact that it has not done so indicates that the type of unemployment we face is structural – the worst of the various types that exist. If that is the case, then the reason that the unemployed don’t follow the jobs is because they don’t have the skills necessary for any openings that might exist and need additional training/education to be better equipped in the labor force.

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