The unemployment rate in the Shoals has dropped nearly to half of what it was in April when COVID-19-related job losses had reached their high, but the labor force also has decreased.

The unemployment rate in June was 7.9%, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. That is down from 10.3% in May and 15.3% in April.

The numbers show improvements in several sectors. Trade, transportation and utilities rose by 400 jobs to 11,300, and retail was up 300 to 8,400.

Leisure and hospitality rose by 400 jobs to a total of 5,200, while professional and business services increased by 500 jobs to 4,500. Construction is up by 200 jobs, to 3,800, the figures show.

Adam Himber, vice president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority, said it appears the Shoals is coming back after the initial economic impact caused by the response to COVID.

"We expected all along that once we got past the shock we would see businesses and industries rebound, and that's what we're seeing," Himber said.

He said SEDA officials are receiving a great deal of interest from prospective industries these days.

The explosion in unemployment came when numerous businesses locally and nationally laid off workers, or even shut down completely, due to the virus.

To give perspective on its impact, the unemployment rate was 3.3% in March of this year, and 3.9% in June 2019, according to the labor statistics.

June's number represents 5,056 unemployed members of the Shoals Metropolitan Statistical Area labor force. The Shoals MSA includes Lauderdale and Colbert counties.

Florence Mayor Steve Holt said the numbers are going in the right direction.

"They came down in May and now it's getting us into single digits again with June's numbers," Holt said. "People are getting back to work, and that's good for us."

While the low pre-Covid numbers and the downward trend in unemployment since April are reasons for optimism, a troubling figure is the drop in the civilian labor force in the Shoals.

That number is 64,208, which is the lowest since May 1992 when it was 63,715 during a recession that saw unemployment reach 7.2% during that month, according to the data.

In May, there were 65,011 Shoals residents in the labor force. That number was 66,072 in June 2019.

The drop in labor force has been common statewide, going down from approximately 2.239 million in May to 2.196 million in June, according to the figures. It was 2.237 million in June 2019.

Nationally, the labor force number has dropped to just under 161 million in June, compared to 164 million in June 2019.

Holt said some of that may be due to people who no longer are considered in the labor force after a certain amount of time without work.

"I think that will eventually come back," he said. "My concern is to keep getting that percentage rate of unemployment down. You can see some of that now, but not enough of it. We need to get more of it."

Broken down by county, Colbert County's June unemployment rate was 8.8%, down from 11% in May, and Lauderdale's was 7.4%, down from 9.5% in May, according to the figures.

June unemployment rates in Alabama's 12 MSAs ranged from a low of 6.4% in the Decatur MSA to a high of 11.5% in Mobile MSA, according to the labor department.

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