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Miss. jobless rate rises for month, falls for year

Mississippi unemployment rate ticks up in December but improves strongly for all of 2012

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi's unemployment rate ticked up to 8.6 percent in December from 8.5 percent in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

Despite the one-month rise, the state's jobless rate still decreased the third-most among states in 2012, in percentage point terms. Only Nevada and Florida fell more than Mississippi's drop of 1.8 percentage points from a 10.4 percent jobless rate in December.

The unemployment rate rose because the state's labor force increased faster than people found jobs. Mississippi reported 115,000 unemployed people in December, up from 113,000 in November, but down from 141,000 in December 2011.

But that fall in the jobless rate has come in part because Mississippians are retiring or giving up the job search. Analysts say Mississippi has resumed growing, but only slowly, after the economy stalled in the summer.

The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. The sluggishness shows up more clearly in a second survey, which each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls.

That survey, which many economists use as their top labor market indicator, found Mississippi payrolls fell to 1.09 million in December. That's down about 2,000 jobs from November when adjusted to cancel out seasonal differences, and ended three straight months of payroll gains.

Mississippi did manage to finish the year above the December 2011 payroll level by more than 3,000 jobs, but that was only a 0.3 percent increase. The state is still 69,000 jobs short of its pre-recession high.

"This is a remarkably weak labor market," state economist Darren Webb told lawmakers Thursday. He and other College Board economists predict total job growth of 1.1 percent this year.

Among business sectors where payrolls fell in Mississippi in December were trade, transportation and utilities; leisure and hospitality; construction; manufacturing and government. The professional and business service sector posted a healthy gain, though, and also rising were education and health services and financial activities.

Mississippi tied with Connecticut and Georgia for the eighth-highest unemployment rate among the states. Overall, unemployment rates fell in 22 states, rose in 16 and were flat in 12. Nevada and Rhode Island tied for the highest unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, and North Dakota kept the lowest at 3.2 percent.

The national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent December, the same as in November but down from the 8.5 percent level of December 2011.

The broadest measure of those who are seeking work averaged 15.5 percent in Mississippi over the 12 months ending Oct. 31, the most recent figures available. That number includes people who are working part time because they can't find a full-time job, are looking for work only sporadically, or have given up looking.

Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 15 percent during the same time.

County-level unemployment numbers will be released later.

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Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.

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