Unemployment Down for 2003?

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If Alabama officials are correct, the state will record a lower jobless rate in 2003 than it did in 2002. It would mark the first drop after three years of increases.

The December unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, the only month in 2003 when Alabama's rate was higher than the national unemployment rate.

The state's labor force dropped by 8,000 in December to 2.15 million workers.

An economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta says the large drop in Alabama indicates more workers are discouraged about job prospects and simply giving up.

State industrial relations director Phyllis Kennedy said the 2002 jobless rate was 5.9 percent, but it never got higher than 5.8 percent last year. The agency will publish the statistical data in March.