Low rates don't always mean more jobs

Staff Writer

More people are working statewide than they were a year ago and the state's unemployment rate is the lowest since 1976, according to new state numbers.

And although rates may be down, the good employment news isn't touching every county in the state.

The state's seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 4.8 percent in November as workers and businesses moved into the holiday season.

The last time the rate was that low Gerald Ford was president.

According to the Department of Employment Security, the state had 3,400 more jobs in November than in October and 12,200 more than November 2016, under the seasonally adjusted formula, which removes the effects of annual events such as holidays, school calendars and weather.

The state's non-adjusted rate was 4.5 percent, down a half point from the 5 percent rate in November 2016.

Non-farm employment was up 13,400 over the year but overall employment was up just 1,600 as temporary farm employment dropped off.

Across Northeast Mississippi, 17 counties had rates of 5 percent or better, But four, including Clay and Noxubee, topped that threshold. Six counties -- Union, Pontotoc, Lafayette, Lee, Calhoun and Itawamba -- had rates below 4 percent.

Noxubee was among the state's highest at 6.8 percent while Clay's was 6.1 percent.

Oktibbeha was the state's 12th lowest at 4 percent. Lowndes was 4.7 percent.

Every county in the region had a lower rate than the previous year, but a shrinking labor pool, not more jobs, often was the cause. For instance, Clay

County's rate dropped only because the work force lost 180 potential workers while 120 fewer people were working.

Experts say labor pools usually decline when people get frustrated and stop looking for work, return to school, or move away.

The more telling numbers come when comparing the number of people working to the previous year. In Oktibbeha County, 100 more people were working in November than a year earlier. Similarly, 70 more Monroe County residents had jobs than the prior year.

Those two joined Lee, Union, Yalobusha, Tishomingo, Tippah, Pontotoc, and Itawamba with higher year-over-year employment.

By contrast, 120 fewer Clay County residents were working in November than the previous year. In Lowndes, 20 fewer people had jobs. Noxubee was unchanged, Chickasaw had 110 fewer jobs, Choctaw was down 50, and Webster was down 50.

Some other dynamics also are changing.

Lafayette County has passed Lowndes as the second largest work force and employment center in the region. And Oktibbeha County is now just roughly 2,000 behind Lowndes in both labor force -- 25,640 to 23,630 -- and employment -- 24,440 to 22,680.

It's a gap that has been closing for more than two years.

Lee County remains the region's largest employment center with a work force of more than 41,000 and more than 39,000 people employed.

The differences are even more significant between Columbus and Starkville as the two cities continue and flip that began a decade ago.

According to the state numbers, 9,080 of Columbus' 9,580 eligible workers were employed in November, down slightly from a year ago. Starkville's employment also was down slightly but the work force -- 12,770 -- and employment -- 12,340 -- remain well above Columbus' numbers.