Mississippi unemployment rate ticks up despite job gains

(AP) With people flooding into Mississippi’s labor force, the state’s job market couldn’t quite keep up in May.

Mississippi’s unemployment rate crept up to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent in April, ending five straight months of falling jobless rates. The number of people who told surveyors they had a job increased by more than 6,000, but the unemployment rate rose because even more people entered the labor force. Mississippi’s jobless rate in May 2014 was 7.7 percent

The report found 84,000 Mississippians were unemployed in May, up slightly from April and down about 11,000 from a year ago.

Since December, more than 40,000 additional people have entered Mississippi’s job market. That steep ascent reversed a three-year decline in worker numbers that pushed down the labor force by more than 9 percent.

Nationally, economists have said that a growing labor force is a sign of a strengthening recovery, as people who gave up looking for work come off the sidelines as job opportunities improve.

The figures — adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes — were released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department. Unemployment rates rose in 25 states in May, fell in nine, and were flat in 16. Mississippi still has the nation’s fifth-highest jobless rate, but that ranking has fallen from the nation’s worst a year ago. West Virginia, at 7.2 percent, had the highest unemployment rate among the states, while Nebraska had the lowest, at 2.6 percent

The national unemployment rate ticked up to 5.5 percent in May from 5.4 percent in April. It was down from 6.4 percent a year ago.

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

Mississippi payrolls rose by 3,600 in May, as job gains reported by employers have been weaker than those reported by workers. Payrolls in May were about 12,000 higher than a year before, but Mississippi has 3.3 percent fewer payroll employees now compared with its all-time high in February 2008.

Of eight major economic sectors, only construction and professional and business services recorded declines. Financial activities saw the largest increase, in percentage terms, rising 1.6 percent.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 13.4 percent in Mississippi for the year ending in March, the most recent figures released. That includes people who look for work only sporadically, who have given up looking, or who work part time because they can’t find a full-time job.

Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 11.6 percent during the same period.