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County jobless rate on the rise

In another sign of how hard the nation’s economic meltdown is hitting the Southeast, unemployment rates ticked up across most of the region in October.

Marengo County’s rate jumped .4 points to 7 percent, the highest this year and nearly 3 percent higher than October 2007.

Officials said the jobs picture was consistent with the overall worsening of the national economy as a result of turmoil in the housing and financial markets.

At least two states, South Carolina and Tennessee, worried that the combination of more people being out of work and federal extensions of how long people can get assistance is draining the funds states use to pay unemployment benefits.

Experts said declines on Wall Street were also having an impact as some retirees seek to return to work after their nest eggs lost value.

“People who could afford not to work are now back in the labor force,” College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said, adding that some people who retired after full careers have seen investments lose half their worth in a year.

In all, an additional 34 county residents found themselves out of work. Once November layoffs are factored in, Marengo’s jobless rate could approach 10 percent next month.

Alabama’s Industrial Relations director Tom Surtees said his state won’t raise employer contributions to the state unemployment fund next year because his state’s trust fund has nearly $400 million. The state is paying out less than $9 million a week in benefits.

Surtees and Gov. Bob Riley said Alabama is doing better than many other states because of new jobs recruited there in recent years, including Hyundai’s 3,000-employee plant in Montgomery that began producing Sonata sedans, Santa Fe SUVs and V6 engines in 2005.

“Alabama is not immune to the economic challenges facing our region and our nation, but we have been weathering this economic storm better than many states,” Riley said.

Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.