State unemployment rate lowest since 2003

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2012 AP file photo

An individual searches job sites for employment possibilities at the Mississippi Department of Employment Security WIN Job Center in Jackson.

At 5.5 percent, Mississippi’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in  more than 13 years, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

The rate for January is the same rate as December when seasonally adjusted, Employment Security officials said, and six-tenths of a percentage point lower than January of last year.

Despite the number of unemployed Mississippians increasing in January by 400 to 71,500, the number of people without jobs dropped more than 7,000 since January of 2016.

However, state economist Darrin Webb cautions against putting too much stock in unemployment numbers alone in evaluating the health of the state economy.

Webb says he focuses more on employment numbers as opposed to the unemployment rate. Those can be seen in the number of non-farm jobs by month.

Seasonally adjusted employment numbers show the number of non-farm jobs rose by 500 in January — from 1,145,000 in December to 1,145,500 in January. However, the number remained the same compared to January 2016.

State economist Darrin Webb

“If, for example, your economy is expanding so you’re actually gaining in jobs, you can have people decide ‘Hey, there’s jobs out there,’ they enter the workforce (and are considered unemployed until securing a job) and have the unemployment rate go up when the economy is doing well,” Webb said.

“You can have the opposite effect where jobs are getting fewer and fewer, so people get discouraged and they leave the workforce,” he noted.

“There are so many caveats with the unemployment rate,” he said.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s office declined to comment on the numbers.

The county with the lowest unemployment rate in January was Rankin County at 4.2 percent. Issaquena County, at 21.2 percent, had the highest.

Key numbers:

The Labor Force increased from 1,283,461 in December to 1,291,200 in January

The number of people working in Mississippi rose from 1,212,354 in December to 1,219,748 in January

The number of non-farm jobs rose from 1,145,000 in December to 1,145,500 in January