State jobless rate dips as labor force shrinks

Economic NewsBy JEFF AMY

Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi’s unemployment rate ticked down to 8.5 percent in August as workers kept leaking out of the labor force.

A separate survey showed state employer payrolls fell slightly.

Both sets of figures — adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes — were released Friday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s the lowest state jobless rate since February 2009. Mississippi’s unemployment rate had initially been estimated at 8.5 percent in July, but that was revised up to 8.6 percent. The state jobless rate was 9.3 percent in August 2012.

The labor force declined by more than 4,000 people, continuing a trend of fewer people looking for jobs. Mississippi’s labor force has fallen every month in 2013.

Mississippi had 110,000 unemployed people in August, down 700 from July, and also down from 124,000 in August 2012. There was a 3,600-person drop in the number of people who said they had a job, driven by the decrease in the labor force.

Mississippi tied with Tennessee and New Jersey for the eighth-worst jobless rate among the states. Nevada retained the nation’s worst jobless rate at 9.5 percent, while North Dakota was again lowest at 3 percent.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent in August from 7.4 in July. It was also below the 8.1 percent level of August 2012.

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 fell by 1,000 people from July, but remained 20,000 above year-ago levels. The state saw relatively strong payroll growth in the first half of 2013, but payrolls have now dropped two months in a row. State economist Darren Webb told lawmakers Thursday that Mississippi’s economy, like the national economy, seems to be slowing.

“The state’s economy has grown relatively strongly over the past year, but we have probably slowed from that pace,” Webb said. “We do expect growth to continue, just not at the pace we have been seeing.”

The gap between current payroll levels and the all-time high of February 2008 widened to 3.4 percent, or 39,000 jobs.

The education and health services sector saw the sharpest job loss, while the leisure and hospitality and government sectors also shed jobs. Seeing modest job increases were trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; financial activities; and construction and manufacturing.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 15.8 percent in Mississippi during the 12 months that ended June 30, the most recent figures available. That underemployment rate includes not only those counted as jobless in the standard survey, but also 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 14.3 percent during the same time.

County-level rates will be released later.