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Report: State economy still edging in right direction

 

By JACK WEATHERLY 

The short view is Mississippi’s economy is edging in the right direction. The longer view is that it is better than it was a year earlier.

Those are two findings in a monthly report from the University Research Center, a branch of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

The Mississippi Leading Index ticked upward by 0.1 percent in March, the second straight month of positive movement.

But it was 3.4 percent higher than it was a year earlier, as the state and nation continue to try to shake the effects of the recession that officially ended in June 2009.

The Leading Index for the nation was 5.2 percent higher than in March 2014, according to the report.

Only two of the seven components of the Mississippi index improved. One of them was “manufacturing intensity” — fewer people doing more work. The other was U.S. retail sales.

Corey Miller, who authors the monthly report, said he is not aware that there is a database for Mississippi retail sales alone.

One thousand fewer people in the state were employed in manufacturing in March than in February, a drop to 140,100.

Construction was the only sector whose employment number increased, to 48,200 from 47,100, despite a dip in residential building permits, but also following a fourth-month upward trend.

Yet unemployment dropped to 6.8 percent from 7 percent, based on a survey of households. The research center relies on a workplace survey, which in March showed a decrease of 4,300 jobs in the total nonfarm work force.

The U.S. economy only added 126,000 jobs in March, the lowest since December 2013 and far below a CNN survey of economists, who projected 244,000. Consequently, unemployment remained at 5.5 percent, though it dropped to 5.4 percent in April after the national economy had a net gain of 233,000 jobs.

The Mississippi Coincident Index, which is supposed to show the current status of the economy, rather than the movement of it, rose .2 percent in March, and stood 1.7 percent higher than a year earlier.

It stood at 98.8 percent of its pre-recession peak, making it one of three states among 12 Southeastern states still below that high point. Alabama was 99.1 percent and Florida was at 96.1 percent.

Texas led the 12 states with an index of 115.3, while the U.S. rate was 109.9 percent.

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