JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's jobless rate dipped slightly in December, but the state continues to have the highest unemployment rate of any state nationwide.
At the same time, employer payrolls continue to grow sluggishly, if at all. Payrolls in the state grew in December, but only enough to make it back to being level with last year.
Both sets of figures — adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes — were released Tuesday by the U.S. Labor Department.
The state's jobless rate fell to 7.2 percent, down from 7.3 percent in November and 7.8 percent in December 2013. The decrease was driven by people leaving the labor market. The number of people who said they had a job fell in December, but the number of people in the workforce fell by more, driving down the unemployment rate and the number of jobless workers.
The report found 89,000 Mississippians were unemployed in December, down by 1,600 from November and by about 10,000 over the year.
The state's job market continues to move slowly as Republican Gov. Phil Bryant gears up to run for re-election. Bryant touted his record of economic development in his State of the State speech last week, despite the nation-leading unemployment rate.
"We are not yet where we need to be to move to a new level, but we are moving ahead and should not be timid about recognizing the good in Mississippi," Bryant said.
Unemployment rates fell in 42 states in December, rose in four and were flat in four. North Dakota retained the nation's lowest jobless rate at 2.8 percent.
The national unemployment rate fell to 5.6 in December from 5.8 percent in November. It's down from 6.7 percent in December 2013.
The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.
Mississippi payrolls rose by about 1,000 in December to 1.12 million. That's basically level with the total from December 2013, reflecting job growth that was flat for much of 2014.
Payrolls increased in sectors including professional and business services, construction, manufacturing and government. They fell in trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; leisure and hospitality and financial activities.
The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 13.5 percent in Mississippi from October 2013 through September 2014, the most recent figures released. That includes people looking 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 12.6 percent during the same period.
Online: State employment report: http://1.usa.gov/104hKGL
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