April Miss. jobless rate falls as labor force dips

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s jobless rate continued to fall in April, again because fewer people were looking for jobs.

The state’s unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent in April from 9 percent in March, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the lowest level since March 2009, and significantly below the state’s 10.6 percent jobless rate in April 2011.

The number of unemployed Mississippians fell to 116,300, down from 120,800 in March and from 141,600 a year ago.

A separate survey of employer payrolls shows that the number of nonfarm employees in the state rose only slightly from a month ago and fell slightly from April 2011.

Mississippi tied with Florida for the eighth-highest jobless rate among states. In March, Mississippi had tied for the fifth-highest rate.

Nevada retains the nation’s worst jobless rate, creeping up to 11.2 percent in April. North Dakota’s oil-fueled boom kept unemployment there at the nation’s lowest rate, 3 percent.

The nationwide unemployment rate dipped to 8.2 percent in March from 8.3 percent in February. That’s also down from 8.9 percent in March 2011.

Mississippi has 28 straight months of double-digit jobless rates ending in January, fueled in part by a steady increase in the number of people looking for work. That climb in job-seekers has reversed early this year, with Mississippi’s labor force falling 1.4 percent in just four months. That, in turn has helped push down the unemployment rate, although the underlying jobs picture has improved little, if any.

The number of people reporting they have work has risen by about 7,000 since December, while the number of people looking for work has fallen by more than 17,000. Combined that has pushed down the total of unemployed Mississippians by about 24,000.

County-level unemployment numbers won’t be released by the state until Wednesday.

The broadest measure of unemployment — which includes people who are only looking for work sporadically, have given up looking or are working part time because they can’t find a full-time job — averaged 15.5 percent in Mississippi over the 12 months ended March 30, the most recent figures available.

Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 15.6 percent during the same time.

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 that many economists look to as their top labor market indicator.

The payroll survey found that total jobs in Mississippi, at 1.09 million, rose by 1,000 from March to April, when seasonally adjusted. Total jobs were about 2,000 fewer than a year ago, another measure of weakness in the state economy. Mississippi and Arkansas were among seven states where payrolls shrank from April 2011 to April 2012, according to federal figures.

The state remains 70,000 jobs short of the pre-recession peak in payroll employment.

Seasonally adjusted payrolls grew in April in sectors including manufacturing; financial services; trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services and leisure and hospitality. Payrolls fell in professional and business services, construction and government.