Alabama's unemployment rate has dropped to 6.1 percent.
Gov. Robert Bentley says that's a five-year low. The last time Alabama has a rate at or below 6.1 percent was October 2008, when the rate was 5.9 percent.
The state Labor Department says December's rate of 6.1 percent compares to 6.2 percent in November and 6.8 percent a year ago. Alabama's rate is below the national average of 6.7 percent. Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are Shelby at 3.8 percent, Lee at 4.7 percent and St. Clair and Cullman at 4.8 percent.
Alabama had the second lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast in July.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Virginia's rate of 5.7 percent was lower than Alabama's rate of 6.3 percent. The bureau also reports that Alabama had one of the nation's biggest drops in unemployment from a year ago, when Alabama's rate measured 7.6 percent. Only seven states exceeded Alabama's drop of 1.3 percentage points over the last year.
Alabama's unemployment rate dropped to 6.5 percent in June, which is lowest rate in more than four years.
The state Department of Labor said the June rate was down from 6.8 percent in May, and it was the lowest rate recorded since Alabama hit the same figure in November 2008. It was also below the national figure of 7.6 percent.
The rate was supposed to be announced Friday, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inadvertently released it early. State officials then provided details of the new rate.
Unemployment benefits for some Alabamians who have been out of work a long time are changing.
Alabamians have been able to qualify for 63 weeks of benefits, but that is being reduced by nine weeks to 54 weeks. Alabama Labor Commissioner Tom Surtees said the state is no longer eligible for the extra nine weeks of federally funded benefits because the state's unemployment rate fell below 7 percent in November, December and January.
Gov. Robert Bentley said Friday that December's rate of 7.1 percent is down from 7.5 percent in November. It's the fourth month for a decline since measuring 8.5 percent in August. The December rate is also better than the 8 percent measured a year ago.
The state Department of Labor reports that Alabama gained 7,600 manufacturing jobs during the last year, and professional and business services jobs grew by 4,500.