Unemployment rates improving in the Shoals

“What will I do when I graduate from school?”

This is a question which runs through many students’ minds. There are some students who are still unsure what their career will be after graduating or even if they will be able to find a job.

Students who stay in the Shoals after graduating may have less luck answering these questions.

The unemployment rate in the Shoals is at 6.2 percent, whereas the statewide unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

In the past year, the unemployment rate has been steady and is getting better, said Doug Barrett, department chair of economics and finance at UNA.

“It’s actually the best it has been since about 2008,” he said. “The underlying trends point to better job growth and lower unemployment. People are making more money, and they’re actually having better returns for their effort in the Shoals area, so it’s a good sign.”

Barrett said there are factors to consider pertaining to unemployment. For example, occupational immobility occurs when people spend the majority of their career in one field and when those jobs go away, they have nowhere to take their skill set.

“Geographic immobility is one of the biggest factors that I see,” he said. “The Shoals area has a population of only about 55,000 total, but there’s only so many jobs.”

Junior Stephanie Johnston said she graduated from UNA with one bachelor’s degree but could not find a job in her field of early childhood education.

“I had to wait tables for six months after I graduated before landing a job not even related to my field,” she said.

Barrett said there is an influx of students staying in Florence after they graduate.

“With UNA being a regional school, part of the issue is there’s a lot of first time students from families, and there’s a lot of social and family pressure to stay in the area,” he said.

Johnston said she cannot relocate because of her husband’s job.

“I am now coming back (to UNA) for another bachelor’s degree since I can’t find a job here with my first one,” she said.

The UNA Career Center can help students and alumni on their job search, said Employer Development Coordinator Amanda Terry.

“The Career Center offers many services to help equip students with the tools they need to succeed,” she said. “Right now, we’re pushing LionJobs, which is our one-stop shop for online job and internship opportunities.”

Barrett said if people look at the broader landscape of the Shoals area between Huntsville and Muscle Shoals, it’s growing.

Florence is growing. However, there could be more job opportunities, said senior Sarah Tingle.

“It has a bit of everything, industry and more,” she said. “If I had a job opportunity to stay here, I would love to live here. It’s a great town. However, besides TVA or one lab corporation office, there’s not anywhere I can work here.”

Sears, Jos. A. Bank and others are closing their Florence branches. However, new businesses, such as Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, are coming in.

Barrett said diversifying the types of jobs available will improve the Shoals.

“The Shoals is a great area,” he said. “You look at the housing market, you look at the taxes, there’s really not a lot of incentive to leave except it is harder to find certain types of jobs.”