- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Though its unemployment rate fell in November, Mississippi again reigns undisputed as the state with the nation’s highest jobless rate.

Maybe worse, employer payrolls fell last month, dipping below levels of November 2013. That’s an ominous sign of weakness in Mississippi’s labor market, which has never really achieved liftoff since the recession.

Both sets of figures - adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes - were released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department.

The state’s jobless rate fell to 7.3 percent, down from 7.6 percent in October and 8 percent in November 2013. Though 900 more people reported having jobs last month, the fall was driven mainly by 3,600 people leaving the labor market. Over the last three years, Mississippi’s labor force has shrunk by nearly 7 percent.

The report found 90,600 Mississippians were unemployed in November, down more than 4,000 from October and below November 2013’s total of 102,000.

Unemployment rates fell in 41 states in November, rose in three and were flat in six. Georgia and Mississippi had tied for the worst jobless rate in October, but Georgia’s fell more last month, to 7.2 percent. North Dakota retained the nation’s lowest jobless rate at 2.7 percent.

The national unemployment rate stayed flat at 5.8 percent from October to November, down from 7 percent in November 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 fell by 4,500 in November, the worst monthly drop in more than four years, dipping below 1.12 million. Mississippi has 3.7 percent fewer payroll employees now compared to its all-time high in February 2008.

The only sectors of the state economy where payrolls increased in November were financial activities and education and health services. Sectors with payroll drops included trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; construction and manufacturing. Government payrolls were flat.

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.

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Online: State employment report: https://1.usa.gov/104hKGL

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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