By PHILLIP RAWLSMONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) â¿¿ Alabama's unemployment rate for January measured 6.9 percent, which was the third-lowest in the Southeast and a full percentage point below the national rate. The January rate was up slightly from December's revised rate of 6.8 percent and equaled the revised November rate of 6.9 percent. Alabama now has three months of rates below 7 percent. The last time the rate was under 7 percent was in November 2008, the state Department of Labor reported Monday. Alabama's January rate was below the 7.3 percent measured a year ago and was below the national rate of 7.9 percent. "The long-term trend in Alabama's unemployment rate is encouraging news," Gov. Robert Bentley said Monday. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Alabama's rate was third-lowest in the Southeast, with Virginia finishing best at 5.6 percent and Louisiana measuring 5.9 percent. Among Alabama's neighbors, Mississippi came in at 9.3 percent, Georgia 8.7 percent, Florida 7.8 percent, and Tennessee 7.7 percent. After the end of the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised Alabama's monthly figures for 2012, and the agency lowered 10 of the 12 months from the rate originally reported. State Labor Commissioner Tom Surtees said Alabama's unemployment rate has been inching downward because of fewer claims being filed for unemployment benefits, fewer companies reporting layoffs, and increased hiring. But he said the focus must remain on finding jobs for the 148,724 Alabamian who were looking for work in January. Ahmad Ijaz, an economic researcher at the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research, said Alabama's declining unemployment rate is due to the state's economy slowly adding jobs, particularly in auto manufacturing, and to the shrinking civilian labor force. The Department of Labor's figures showed the civilian labor force in January was about 8,700 smaller than a year ago.
Counties with the lowest unemployment rates for January were: Shelby at 5.4 percent, Blount at 6.4 percent and Madison at 6.6 percent. Counties with the highest unemployment rates were: Wilcox at 17.4 percent, Lowndes at 14.5 percent, and Bullock, Perry, and Dallas at 13.9 percent.Alabama's unemployment rate for February will be announced March 29.