State unemployment down to 8.6 percent from 9.4 percent; closer look reveals sobering picture
Certainly the news that Mississippi’s unemployment rate actually fell in April compared to the prior month was good news. Many expected to see the state’s jobless rate hit or pass the 10-percent mark.
However, a closer look reveals a less-than-rosy picture.
The state’s not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last April was 8.6 percent, down from March 2009’s rate of 9.4 percent. That matched exactly the nation’s not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April of 8.6 percent.
But, the state’s unemployment rate historically has always fallen in April. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security said the historical decrease in April could mainly be attributed to agriculture as workers return to the field.
Comparing last April’s unemployment rate to April 2008 gives a truer, and much more sobering, measure of the state’s jobless situation. The rate in April 2008 was a 5.6 percent, three percentage points lower than last April.
Using seasonally adjusted figures, the state’s unemployment was not much better. Mississippi’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April 2009 was 9.1 percent, compared to April 2008’s seasonally adjusted rate of 6.4 percent.
The number of initial unemployment insurance claims last April was 16,608, down from March 2009 (17,961) but well up from April 2008 (11,674).
David Holland, division director based in the WIN Job Center in Brookhaven, said it is hard to gauge new claims as the Brookhaven office transferred new claims to a centralized call center May 15. However, he said he and his team have plenty to do.
“The workload on my staff hasn’t changed as we are still working the old claims. We haven’t seen a let up even with the call center taking up the new claims,” he said.
In April 2009, the number of unemployed Mississippians fell by 12,200, while the number of employed citizens rose by a mere 100. Results from Mississippi’s non-farm employment survey, which is counted by the location of establishments, reported a not seasonally adjusted increase in employment of 3,100 in April 2009 when compared to March 2009. However, compared to April 2008, employment fell by 39,400.
The most recession-sensitive industries saw the biggest drop in employment. The biggest losers were manufacturing, professional and business services, trade, transportation and utilities and leisure and hospitality.
The state’s lowest jobless rate was in Rankin County at 5.4 percent, followed by Lamar County (5.5 percent), Scott County (5.9 percent) and Forrest County (6.3 percent). In all, 25 counties were under the state’s average of 8.6 percent.
One the other end of the spectrum, Noxubee County recorded a rate of 17.2 percent, followed closely by Holmes County at 17.1 percent. A total of 35 counties reported double-digit unemployment rates.
Even counties with good April 2009 numbers had jobless rates well above April 2008. For instance, Jackson County’s unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April 2009, but it was only 4.8 percent in April 2008. Hinds County came in at 7.3 percent in April 2009, up more than two percentage points from April 2008 (5 percent).
Manufacturing-heavy North Mississippi and the Delta saw the worst of April 2009’s unemployment rate. Of the 35 counties posting double-digit jobless rates, 28 were located in these two regions. Regions with the lowest unemployment were the Coast, Pine Belt and the tri-county area of Hinds-Rankin-Madison.
Mississippi’s four metropolitan statistical areas — Biloxi/Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson and Pascagoula — all posted better April 2009 numbers compared to the prior March, but all were significantly up from April 2008. Comparing year-ago numbers, Biloxi/Gulfport was up 2.3 percent, Hattiesburg was up 1.7 percent, Jackson was up 2.2 percent and Pascagoula was up the highest at 2.6 percent.
Still, a decrease in unemployment is obviously better than an increase. The state has reworked existing programs and introduced others that have helped keep the state’s joblessness out of double digits – at least for now.
Gov. Haley Barbour said, “Early in my first term, we retooled our economic development program with Momentum Mississippi, a new approach that offered greater flexibility in creating new jobs and retaining existing jobs. It’s worked very well, and continues to be a solid approach even during the current recession.”