March 16, 2016 10:30:23 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi's jobless rate is worst among the 50 states, dragged down in part by a low-growth state economy, according to U.S. Labor Department figures released Monday.
State economist Darrin Webb said Mississippi is growing more slowly than the nation.
"The national economy isn't booming, so the problems are coming to the forefront," Webb said.
The unemployment rate fell in January to 6.7 percent from 6.8 percent in December. But because federal readjustments at the start of each year using more in-depth employment data, new population estimates and other calculation changes, Mississippi fell from third-worst in December to worst in January.
All four Golden Triangle counties reported higher unemployment rates than the state average. Oktibbeha County's jobless rate for January was 6.9 percent, followed by Lowndes County at 7.6 percent, Clay County at 9.5 percent, and Noxubee County at 9.7 percent.
The number of Mississippians reporting they have jobs has actually been growing since mid-2014. But the labor force has increased more rapidly since late last summer, outstripping jobs being created.
Clay Chandler, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Bryant, focused on positive news that more Mississippians are employed now than any time since 2008.
"Despite the latest figures, the governor is encouraged that the labor force grew for the 19th consecutive month," Chandler wrote in an email. "... The state also added jobs for the 20th month in a row."
North Dakota and South Dakota tied at 2.8 percent for the nation's lowest jobless rate. The national unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in January from 5 percent in December and 5.7 percent a year ago.
The rate is calculated by a survey asking how many are seeking work. A second survey asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a top labor market indicator for many economists.
Mississippi payrolls fell by more than 2,000 in January. Payrolls in January were 15,000 higher than a year ago, and the state reported 1.2 percent job growth in 2015 over 2014. The payrolls still remain 1.7 percent below their February 2008 all-time high.
Webb has long said Mississippi is unlikely to keep pace with nationwide growth, citing worker productivity hampered by less educated workers and poorer health.
"It's the capacity of the workforce," he explained.
He said the problem is only worsening as machines and computers take tasks of lower-skilled workers.
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