Mississippi’s unemployment rate jumped 2% from June to July as more people began seeking work in the fourth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Extended unemployment benefits — which offered an additional $600-a-week on top of Mississippi’s $235 weekly max — ended on July 31 while Congress remained in gridlock over a new relief package.

The state’s unemployment rate, which had hovered around 5.5% before the pandemic, was 10.8% in July, just above the nation’s rate of 10.1%, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Thursday the state would apply for a $300 weekly boost offered by President Donald Trump’s recent executive order. The state must match the federal money by $100, but Reeves said it would use the existing state payments to recipients for this match, meaning Mississippi’s lowest-income earners receiving state benefits under $100 will not receive the supplement. This could apply to part-time workers who earned $866-a-month or less — $8.66-an-hour on 25-hour work weeks — before the pandemic.

Reeves said Thursday he estimated the state would start issuing payments within one to three weeks, but a release by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security said the state must wait for federal approval and then it will take three to four weeks before funds are available.

In April, almost every state, including Mississippi, recorded their single highest unemployment rate dating back to 1976, the earliest year in the publication. In Mississippi, the figure was 16.3%.

When the pandemic hit in March, Mississippi’s unemployed population rose to almost 200,000 Mississippians, or about one-sixth of the labor force, within a month. But an additional nearly 70,000, about 5% of the worker population, also left the labor force altogether in that time.

As people started returning to work in Mississippi in May and June, the percentage of jobless workers started to shrink, but as others who had fallen out of the labor force started looking for work again in July, the jobless rate ticked up.

About 133,000 people in Mississippi were still unemployed in July, almost 30,000 more than in June, but about 38,000 people also reentered the workforce in that time, according to the national monthly household survey.

Mississippi was one of 14 states whose jobless rates increased from June to July, based on preliminary figures.

Nearly 200,000 people were seeking unemployment benefits in Mississippi by early August, according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Department of Labor. To qualify typically, an jobless person must be willing and able to return to work and be searching for a job. Reeves initially waived the state’s work search requirement, but that expired in early August, which means people will have to prove they are looking for work to continue receiving benefits.

Employers that have since reopened and called employees back to work may notify the state unemployment office if a worker is electing not to return and the state will end their benefits.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Anna Wolfe, a native of Tacoma, Wa., is an investigative reporter writing about poverty and economic justice. Before joining the staff at Mississippi Today in September of 2018, Anna worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide daily newspaper. She also worked as an investigative reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and Jackson Free Press, the capital city’s alternative newsweekly. Anna has received national recognition for her work, including the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the 2021 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the 2021 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the 2020 Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the February 2020 Sidney Award for reporting on Mississippi’s debtors prisons. She received the National Press Foundation’s 2020 Poverty and Inequality Award. She also received first place in the regional Green Eyeshade Awards in 2021 for Public Service in Online Journalism and 2020 for Business Reporting, and the local Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2019 and 2018 for reporting on unfair medical billing practices and hunger in the Mississippi Delta.