By NEMS Daily Journal and The Associated Press
For the first time in three years, the unemployment rate in Northeast Mississippi fell below 10 percent.
According to preliminary estimates from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, the jobless rate for the region’s 16 counties was 9.8 percent in February. The only other time in the past three years Northeast Mississippi did not have double-digit unemployment was March 2009.
Another encouraging sign: All 16 counties saw a dip in their jobless rate from January.
The region added about 1,000 people to its employment rolls, to 198,070, while the number of unemployed fell by about 900 to 21,730.
In addition, seven counties had figures under 10 percent, the most in more than three years.
Statewide, the February unemployment rate fell to 9.5 percent, the lowest level since July 2009.
The unemployment rate fell from January to February in 79 counties. It was flat in two counties and rose only in Leake County. Rankin County retained the state’s lowest jobless rate, at 6.1 percent. Tunica County had the highest unemployment rate, at 17.4 percent.
In Northeast Mississippi, Lafayette had the lowest rate at 7.5 percent, which was sixth-lowest statewide.
County-level numbers aren’t adjusted to smooth out normal seasonal fluctuations.
The nationwide unemployment rate stayed level at 8.3 percent from January to February.
Mississippi’s labor force had been increasing steadily since late 2009, which is one reason the unemployment rate has risen in Mississippi even when it has been flat or falling in most of the nation.
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 a top labor market indicator.
The payroll survey found that total jobs, at 1.08 million, rose by only 700 from a year ago on a seasonally unadjusted basis. Economists point to the payroll survey as evidence of weakness in Mississippi’s economy.
Mississippi remains far from reaching its pre-recession peak in payroll employment. The state’s payroll job total is about 6 percent short of where it was before the recession began.
Seasonally unadjusted payrolls grew in the manufacturing, government and health care and social assistance.