State unemployment rate still rising

By The Associated Press

VICKSBURG – Mississippi’s unemployment rate has drifted slowly upward during 2011, hovering at 10.6 percent in October. That tied with Michigan for the third highest nationwide, behind No. 1 Nevada and No. 2 California.
Mississippi is adding jobs, and it’s just that employment growth hasn’t kept up with the expanding number of job seekers.
The broadest measure of unemployment – which includes people who are looking for work sporadically, who have given up looking, or who are working part time because they can’t find a full-time job – averaged 16.5 percent in Mississippi over the 12 months ended Sept. 30.
Almost as many Mississippians said they had a job in October as in January 2008, the high-water mark for pre-recession employment. But the number of people looking for jobs in the state began growing in late 2009 and is 4.5 percent greater than before the recession began. That compares to almost no growth in the national labor force.
Marianne Hill, an economist with the state’s College Board, said people who had stepped to the sidelines may have entered the job market as the economy began to improve.
Besides surveying people each month to ask if they have a job, officials also ask employers each month how many people are on their payrolls. That separate survey, which many economists use as their primary indicator of job-market health, shows much more sluggish job growth in Mississippi. After dropping 6.6 percent from early 2008 to early 2010, state payrolls have only recovered by 1.8 percent.
Still, as national growth has steadied, state payroll numbers are showing encouraging signs.
“We’re definitely seeing improvement and job growth is picking up,” Kim Fraser, an economist with BBVA Compass bank of Birmingham, Ala., said of the national economy. “The job situation has been improving. As slow as it’s going, it is going somewhere.”
A disadvantage for Mississippi is that it depends more heavily than the nation as a whole on manufacturing and government jobs, Hill said. Those two sectors have shed jobs this year in the state.
Manufacturing though, may be looking up, said Sohini Chowdhury, an economist with Moody’s Analytics who watches Mississippi’s economy. She said the recent opening of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi plant in Blue Springs is the “biggest piece of good news” that the state’s fragile economy has right now.
Another problem both in Mississippi and nationwide is what experts call structural unemployment, where jobs in certain industries permanently go away.
“Those skills don’t necessarily transfer to other positions,” said Fraser, who helps write her bank’s monthly look at structural unemployment.
In 2010, 44 percent of Mississippi’s unemployed workers were out of a job for more than six months, just about the same as the national average. The average length of unemployment in Mississippi was more than seven months.