Unemployment figures for August released this week offer modest encouragement, more strongly in Northeast Mississippi than statewide.
The 16 Northeast Mississippi counties dropped two unemployment rate percentage points, to 8.9 percent, matching the lowest rate for the year, achieved in April and May.
The rate statewide dropped one-tenth of a percentage point, to 9.1 percent.
During the heart of summer, the rate in the region had climbed above 10 percent after having been under 10 percent for five consecutive months.
The progress in August is even better compared to August 2011, when joblessness was 2.4 points higher. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security estimates 200,370 were employed in the region in August, with 19,460 unemployed. A year earlier, 195,270 were employed and 25,280 unemployed.
Northeast Mississippi's highest unemployment in the recession cycle was 13 percent in January 2010, a full two years after the recession started. The region had 35 straight months of double-digit unemployment, from April 2010 until January this year.
Earlier, in the summer, an economic think-tank reported that "Mississippi's Index of Coincident Indicators fell in July for the fourth consecutive month. The Mississippi Index of Leading Indicators fell for the fourth month as well. The state appears to have gone into a recession during the second quarter. Data are limited, but early signs are that the Mississippi economy has not significantly improved in the third quarter. For the first seven months of 2012, employment in the state was down 0.2 percent relative to the same period of 2011. ... Several sectors experienced job gains for July, giving hope that growth could resume in the remainder of the year."
The independent and non-partisan Mississippi Economic Policy Center had reported, based on Census data from 2011, "If you live in Mississippi, there's a 25 percent chance you're living in poverty. That's according to numbers recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau."
In August, 11 of the region's 16 counties had unemployment under 10 percent: Lafayette (6.5), Pontotoc (7.4), Union (7.5) and Itawamba (7.8). Northeast Mississippi's largest county, Lee, was at 8.1 percent, the lowest August rate in four years.
Having a job obviously increases the chances that individuals and families can avoid poverty and, eventually, if employment rises, that Mississippi can escape recession status. The latest unemployment data offers a small glimmer of hope in that regard.