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Miss. jobless rate drops as labor force shrinks


Jeff Amy, The Associated Press



JACKSON -- Job growth is still anemic in Mississippi, but people are leaving the labor force in droves, rapidly pushing down the state's unemployment rate. 


The jobless rate fell to 9 percent in March from 9.6 in February, according to seasonally adjusted numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the lowest level since April 2009, and well below the 10.5 percent unemployment rate of March 2011. 


A falling labor force is in some ways bad news for the larger economy, but it does help to drive down the number of jobless people reported by the survey. Mississippi's 0.6 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate tied with Oklahoma for the biggest decrease among states in March.  


Despite the decrease, Mississippi remained tied for the fifth-highest jobless rate among the states in March. Nevada still had the worst unemployment rate, at 12 percent, while North Dakota retained the lowest unemployment rate, at 3 percent. 


The nationwide unemployment rate dipped to 8.2 percent in March from 8.3 percent in February. That's also down from 8.9 percent in March 2011. 


Mississippi's jobless rate has been declining steadily since peaking at 10.9 percent as late as September. Unemployment climbed that high largely because the number of people looking for work in Mississippi rose strongly from late 2009 through the end of 2011. The number of people with jobs also grew, but not as fast, driving up the number of unemployed Mississippians to almost 150,000 in late summer 2011. 


That trend has reversed in early 2012, with the number of people seeking work falling by 13,500 people, or 1 percent, since December. The number of people reporting they had work rose by 6,300 during the same period. Combined, that has pushed down the number of jobless by about 20,000.  


County-level unemployment numbers won't be released by the state until Wednesday. 


The broadest measure of unemployment -- which includes people who are only looking for work sporadically, have given up looking or 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, the most recent figures available. 


Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 16.2 percent during the same time. 


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 their top labor market indicator. 


The payroll survey found that total jobs in Mississippi, at 1.09 million, fell by 1,000 from February to March, when seasonally adjusted. Total jobs were also more than 3,500 lower than a year ago, another measure of weakness in the state economy. Mississippi, Wisconsin and Montana were the only states where payrolls shrank from March 2011 to March 2012, according to federal figures. 


The decrease means Mississippi is farther from reaching its pre-recession peak in payroll employment. The state is still 71,000 jobs, or 6 percent, short of where it was before the recession began. 


Seasonally adjusted payrolls grew in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, financial and manufacturing sectors. They fell in the trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services and construction sectors. Government employment was flat.




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