JACKSON — Here’s the good news: Mississippi’s job market in January had the strongest month in at least three years.
But balance that with the bad: The state remained tied in January with Nevada for the highest unemployment rate of any state, and its struggling recovery has a long way to go before reaching pre-recession employment levels.
The state’s jobless rate fell to 7.1 percent, down from 7.2 percent in December and 7.9 percent in January 2014. Unlike many recent months, that improving unemployment rate was not driven by Mississippians leaving the job market. The number of people looking for a job rose by 7,000.
The report found that 88,000 Mississippians were unemployed in January, about even with December but more than 10,000 below January 2014.
Unemployment rates fell in 24 states in January, rose in eight and were flat in 18. North Dakota retained the nation’s lowest jobless rate at 2.8 percent.
The national unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent in January from 5.6 in December.
Figures — adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes — were released Tuesday by the U.S. Labor Department.
The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey asking how many people are looking for a job. A second survey asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.
Mississippi payrolls rose by 4,600 in January to 1.13 million. That’s the largest increase in three years that saw only tepid growth. Payrolls in January were 9,000 higher than a year before.
Still, Mississippi has 2.8 percent fewer payroll employees now compared with its all-time high in February 2008.
Payrolls increased in sectors including trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; and financial activities. Payrolls fell in leisure and hospitality, and in construction and government, while they were flat in education and health services and manufacturing.
The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 13.6 percent in Mississippi for all of 2014, the most recent figures released. That includes people who look for work only sporadically, who have given up looking or who work part time because they can’t find a full-time job.
Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 12 percent during the same period.