September 24, 2012 9:53:40 AM
JACKSON -- Payrolls fell in Mississippi for the fourth straight month in August, reinforcing economists' judgment that the state is back in recession.
Employers said they had 1.08 million workers last month in Mississippi. That falls below the October 2009 low hit in the national recession, and is the lowest number of payroll jobs in the state since early 1996.
To calculate the state's unemployment rate, a second survey each month asks how many people have jobs or are looking for one. It showed that Mississippi's jobless rate dipped to 9.1 percent in August from 9.2 in July, when numbers are adjusted to cancel out predictable seasonal changes.
The state's jobless level has fallen from a post-recession peak of 10.9 percent in August 2011, but progress has stalled in recent months. Despite those setbacks, Mississippi posted the largest percentage point drop in the unemployment rate among all the states over the last 12 months, falling 1.8 percentage points.
The number of unemployed Mississippians was steady at 122,000 from July to August, below the 147,000 people unemployed in August 2011.
Mississippi tied with New York and Illinois for the ninth-highest unemployment rate among the states. Overall, jobless levels rose in 26 states and fell in 12. Nevada retained the highest rate at 12.1 percent, and North Dakota kept the lowest at 3 percent.
The national unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent in August from 8.3 percent in July. It remained below the 9.1 percent level of July 2011.
The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 15.4 percent in Mississippi over the 12 months ending June 30, the most recent figures available. That number includes people who are looking for work only sporadically, have given up looking or are working part time because they can't find a full-time job.
Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 15.3 percent during the same time.
Mississippi was one of eight states to lose payroll jobs over the 12-month period, when numbers were seasonally adjusted. Many economists look to the payroll totals as their top labor market indicator.
"The current level of employment in Mississippi is the same as it was in the depth of the recession," Darrin Webb, Mississippi's state economist, told lawmakers Monday. "So all the gains we may have had, the modest gains we've had, have essentially disappeared."
Mississippi fell to 79,000 jobs short of its pre-recession peak in payroll employment, meaning 7 percent of jobs have disappeared since February 2008.
Among business sectors where payroll jobs fell in Mississippi in August were trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; manufacturing; financial activities and government. Jobs rose in education and health services, construction and leisure and hospitality.