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Experts won't confirm drop in unemployment as a trend

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The state unemploy- ment rate dropped a point to 9.5 percent in August as compared to July’s 10.5 percent, but experts can’t confirm the drop is signaling a trend.

Of Mississippians unemployed in July, 16,600 gained jobs in August, putting the state’s jobless rate below the national average of 9.6 percent. This change may be attributed to folks who have given up job searching or gone back to school. In a state where 30 percent of the population is employed by the agriculture industry, however, it is important to note these numbers do not include farm workers.

While there is not an accurate way to track those who have quit job searching, preliminary student enrollment numbers at Mississippi’s four-year and two-year colleges show dramatic increases.

Student enrollment at Mississippi’s eight public universities showed a collective increase of nearly 2,500 students or about 3.5 percent from fall 2008 numbers, according to preliminary fall 2009 enrollment figures from the state Institutions of Higher Learning.

Although system-wide enrollment has increased annually since 1994, this year’s increase is “one of the largest in recent years,” said Leah Rupp Smith, IHL director of communications.

Preliminary enrollment figures from IHL showed a .4 percent increase in 2006, a 1.2 percent increase in 2007, and a .5 percent increase in 2008.

A preliminary Sept. 17 enrollment count shows the state’s community and junior colleges are up by more than 9,500 students this fall as compared to fall 2008 — which is a 13.05 percent increase, according to the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.

While the industry sectors laying off the most employees were construction and manufacturing, Mississippi’s largest employer – the agriculture industry – seems to be holding its own.

“What I’m hearing in the field is there are still plenty of ag jobs out there,” said

Andy Prosser, director of marketing and public relations for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

Prosser said the drop in August unemployment in Mississippi could “absolutely” be affected positively by seasonal hires for harvesting. Corn, soybeans and now rice are crops currently being harvested.

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