- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s jobless rate dipped in March for the third month in a row, although employer payrolls shrank, as employment numbers sent mixed signals about the state’s economy.

The unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent, down from 7 percent in February and 7.8 percent in March 2014. The number of Mississippians saying they had a job rose even as the state’s labor force expanded, while the number of unemployed people fell.

Still, Mississippi continued to have the second highest jobless rate behind Nevada’s 7.1 percent, and remains well below pre-recession job levels.

The report found 85,000 Mississippians were unemployed in March, down slightly from February and almost 13,000 below March 2014.

Figures adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes were released Tuesday by the U.S. Labor Department.

Unemployment rates fell in 23 states in March, rose in 12 and were flat in 15. Slowing oil and gas drilling meant that for the first time in years, North Dakota didn’t have the nation’s lowest jobless rate. Instead, it was Nebraska with the lowest unemployment rate at 2.6 percent.

The national unemployment rate was flat from February to March at 5.5 percent, down from 6.6 percent in March 2014.

The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey asking how many people are looking for a job. A second survey asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.

Mississippi payrolls fell by 4,300 in March January to 1.12 million, continuing a long-term trend of tepid growth at best. Payrolls in March were 7,000 higher than a year before, but Mississippi has 3.4 percent fewer payroll employees now compared with its all-time high in February 2008.

Of eight major economic sectors, only construction recorded an increase. Professional and business services saw the largest decline, by percentage, falling 0.8 percent.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 13.6 percent in Mississippi for all of 2014, 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 12 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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