Many rural counties see double-digit unemployment rates - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Many rural counties see double-digit unemployment rates

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A record number of Georgians are out of work right now. The statewide unemployment rate is 9.4-percent but it's much worse in many rural counties. One area county is bucking that trend.

While thousands of people fill unemployment offices in Georgia, it seems people in Lee County are staying employed. "Well that's good news for the residents of Lee County," said Lee County Economic Development Director Winston Oxford.

That's been the trend since Oxford started watching the numbers a few years ago. "Matter of fact, about two years ago, it was right at 3 percent," said Oxford.

We took a look at the unemployment numbers in Georgia county by county. Only a handful were below the 8-percent mark. It's impressive in these economic times that Oconee has a 6-percent unemployment rate. Lee and Long Counties are tied at 6.7 percent. Columbia and Harris aren't too far behind with 6.9 and 7.1 percents.

"It seems that all four of those counties are bedroom communities to surrounding counties," said Oxford. Oxford partly credits the low rate in Lee County to the fact that 85-percent of Lee County residents work in Dougherty or other counties.

"Another likeness of those four counties is that if you look at the educational data and the skill level of the folks that live in those counties, it far exceeds the levels of the average counties in the state," said Oxford.

Many rural counties aren't doing well. Jenkins is the highest at more than 21-percent and many Southwest Georgia counties have unemployment rates in the double digits. Both Ben Hill and Irwin are more than 15 percent followed closely by Turner, Cook and Decatur Counties.

Oxford expects Lee County to build on its commercial and manufacturing base so more than 15-percent of the county's growing population can actually work in the county. "The projected population in Lee County in 2022, 23, 24 will exceed 50,000," said Oxford.

The ideal goal is for the unemployment rate to stay low as those numbers grow.

More than half of Georgia's 159 counties now have unemployment rates higher than 10-percent.

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