Miss: Private jobs up, government employment down

By Alan Sayre/The Associated Press

A combination of Mississippi River flooding and high gasoline prices put the brakes at least temporarily on Mississippi’s overall job growth in May, an economist said Wednesday.

Mississippi lost 4,000 non-farm jobs between May 2010 and last month — mostly due to a drop-off of 11,100 jobs in government, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported Wednesday. The figures are not adjusted for seasonal factors. The April-to-April comparison showed a gain of 6,600 jobs, while the March-to-March count was up by 9,200 jobs.

State economist Darrin Webb said the loss of 3,100 jobs between April and May was due to flooding that shut down businesses, including almost the entire casino industry along the river, and high fuel prices that crimped consumers and businesses alike.

At the same time, the state seemed to be following the rest of the nation in seeing second-quarter economic growth slow, Webb said.

“We got hit pretty hard in May,” Webb said.

Webb said the flooding likely would have only a temporary effect on jobs, and the construction sector could see job gains as areas hit by high water repair and rebuild.

Over the 12 months, private business added 7,100 jobs. However, the goods-producing sector, including mining and logging, manufacturing and construction continued to lag, losing 4,300 jobs. Private service-providing employers added 11,400 jobs for a 1.8 percent gain.

Outside of government, manufacturing lost 3,200 jobs, or 2.3 percent of its workforce in 12 months. Construction fell by 1,100 jobs, or 2.2 percent. Mining and logging, which includes the petroleum sector, was unchanged.

The largest gains were recorded in widespread sector of professional-business services, which saw a 6.2 percent year-over-year increase with 5,700 jobs, followed by leisure-hospitality with 2,900 jobs, a 2.4 percent increase and private education and health services with 2,400 jobs, for a 1.8 percent in increase.

Although calls for government spending reductions have echoed nationally, Webb said a relatively poor state as Mississippi needs a growing private sector that provides enough revenue for a government sector that can tackle public problems. Over the past year, for example, payrolls in state and local education have been slashed by 4,800 jobs.

“We’re not talking about bloated government,” Webb said. “These guys are working on a shoestring budget to begin with. In Mississippi, we have systemic problems that the private sector isn’t going to take care of. You need the government to do that. But that’s the reality of the present economic time.”

Among Mississippi’s metropolitan areas:

— Gulfport-Biloxi’s non-farm employment was unchanged for the past 12 months and from April to May.

— Hattiesburg lost 100 jobs in May for a 12-month loss of 100.

— Jackson gained 1,300 jobs last month for a 1,600-job gain over 12 months.

— Pascagoula lost 1,200 jobs last month and had 2,500 fewer jobs than a year ago.