Mississippi unemployment rate drops to 8 percent, lowest since January 2009

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi’s unemployment rate fell to 8 percent in December, as people continued to drop out of the labor force. A separate survey showed state employer payrolls rising slowly, painting an overall picture of a state economy slowly continuing to improve, but still lagging the national recovery.

Both sets of figures — adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes — were released Tuesday by the U.S Labor Department.

It’s the lowest state jobless rate since January 2009, a point early during the recession when businesses were laying off thousands of people.

Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in November. The state jobless rate was 8.9 percent in December 2012.

December’s rate tied Mississippi with Kentucky for the seventh-worst jobless rate in the nation.

Rhode Island had the nation’s worst jobless rate at 9.1 percent, while North Dakota was again lowest at 2.6 percent. Unemployment rates fell or were unchanged in 44 U.S. states in December. The Labor Department said Tuesday that employers added jobs to payrolls in 30 states and cut jobs 19.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December from 7 percent in November. It was also below the 7.9 percent level of December 2012. Like in Mississippi, the December nationwide drop stemmed from people giving up their job search.

The Labor Department reports 102,000 Mississippians were unemployed in November, down from 107,000 in November and 119,000 in December 2012.

That decline was more than cancelled out by a 9,000-person decline in the labor force, meaning fewer people actually reported having jobs. Mississippi’s labor force has fallen nearly 5 percent in the last two years, as people have retired, gone back to school or otherwise given up looking for work.

The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.

Mississippi’s nonfarm payrolls rose by 500 during December to 1.13 million people. That’s 19,000 above year-ago payroll levels, a healthy improvement. But Mississippi remains almost 4 percent below the pre-recession high.

Employment rose during the month in trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; education and health services and government. Jobs fell in manufacturing and leisure and hospitality. Payrolls were flat in construction and financial activities.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 15 percent in Mississippi during the 12 months ended September 30, the most recent figures available. That number includes people who are looking for work only sporadically, have given up looking or are working part time because they can’t find a full-time job.

Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 14.1 percent during the same time.