JACKSON — Mississippi’s employers flexed a little muscle in July, posting the state’s biggest payroll gain since before the recession. Combined with a slowly improving unemployment rate, the results suggest the Magnolia State could lose the labor market laggard status it’s struggled with even as the nation rebounded from the economic downturn.
Payrolls rose by 5,800 last month, pushing year-over-year gains since July 2014 to nearly 16,000. And while that’s not as strong as states like Florida or Arkansas during that time, it places Mississippi squarely in the middle of the pack.
Of eight major economic sectors, manufacturing was the only one that saw payrolls fall in Mississippi in July. Construction, leisure and hospitality and government posted the strongest gains among sectors.
Many economists use the payroll survey as their top labor market indicator, but a second survey each month calculates the unemployment rate by asking how many people are looking for a job. Both sets of figures — adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes — were released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department.
Mississippi’s unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent in July from 6.6 percent in June, and was below July 2014’s 7.5 percent rate. The state’s jobless rate has fallen in six out of the last seven months, and has been drifting down consistently since peaking in early 2010. However, Mississippi remains above the national average for unemployment, tying for the fourth-highest jobless rate among the states in July.
The state’s labor force continued the expansion that began in January, but even more people told surveyors they had jobs in June. That pushed down the number of unemployed Mississippians to 82,000, down about 1,000 from June and 10,000 below July 2014.
Unemployment rates fell in 41 states in July, rose in six, and were flat in three. West Virginia, at 7.5 percent, had the highest unemployment rate among the states. Nebraska had the lowest, at 2.7 percent.
The national unemployment rate was level from June to July at 5.3 percent. It was down from 6.2 percent a year ago.
The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 12.8 percent in Mississippi for the year ending in June, 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 11.3 percent during the same period.