Mississippi employment staggers through downturn

If the recession is easing its grip on Mississippi, employment figures are doing a good job of hiding it.

Last month, the state was down 64,900 non-farm jobs from June 2008 — just before the start of the economic meltdown — with construction and manufacturing taking the brunt of the loss. Improvement, to this stage, is hard to find: The state labor department says Mississippi lost 5,700 jobs between June 2009 and June 2010.

State economist Darrin Webb says uncertainty is the big factor holding back the economy. “Businessmen and consumers are afraid to spend. Businessmen are afraid to hire.”

Over the past two years, there are only two sectors of the Mississippi economy that have gained jobs overall. Education and health services are up by 1,000 jobs — on a non-seasonally adjusted basis — since June 2009.

Government has gained 6,600 jobs, but most of those are likely short-lived since the federal government did temporary hiring to take care of the Census.

The goods-producing sector has lost 41,309 jobs since 2008, including 8,500 in the past year. Although the service-providing sector is down by 23,600 jobs from June 2008, at least the pace has slowed, with only 900 fewer jobs now than in June 2009.

Mirroring other states, manufacturing and construction have been the biggest losers. Manufacturing has lost 25,000 jobs over the past two years, with wood products and the building of electrical equipment and appliances taking out the largest chunks on a percentage basis.

The broad sector of trade, transportation and utilities, which includes wholesale and retail trade outlets, the warehousing and transpiration companies that store and ship goods and the utilities that serve them are down 9,900 jobs from June 2008 and 300 from June 2009.

That sector is tied largely to consumer spending, which is cited as a reason for the slow recovery nationwide. The Consumer Confidence Index came in at 50.4 in July, a steeper-than-expected decline from the revised 54.3 in June, according to a survey by the Conference Board. The decline followed a drop of nearly 10 points, from 62.7 in May, and is the lowest point since February.

“Consumers went on a binge early in the year, but slowed down again,” Webb said.

The leisure-hospitality sector, which includes tourism and casinos, has lost 7,600 jobs over the past two years, including 2,200 since June 2009. The financial sector has shed 2,200 jobs since June 2008 and the broad sector of professional-business services has lost 9,000.

Like other coastal states, Webb said the full employment effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the moratorium on deepwater petroleum drilling in the Gulf likely haven’t shown up yet. Webb said it was even premature to offer an estimate. The mining and logging sector, which includes petroleum, has lost 900 jobs over the past two years amid lower energy prices and a pre-spill slowdown of activity in the Gulf.

“At this point it’s too early,” Webb said. “But obviously it’s going to cost us. We just don’t know how much yet.”

Alan Sayre/The Associated Press