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Wide Variations In Unemployment Seen Across Mississippi

By Evelina Burnett | Published 24 Jul 2014 09:41am | comments
June unemployment by county (source: Mississippi Dept of Employment Security monthly Labor Market Data report)

Mississippi’s unemployment rate, the highest in the nation, also varies widely throughout the state. MPB’s Evelina Burnett spoke with economists about the reasons why.

Mississippi’s seasonally adjusted unemployment in June was 7.9 percent, the highest in the U.S. That’s up a bit from May and down less than one percent from last June.

"What this seems to indicate is that economic growth, both at the state and national level, remains anemic and somewhat isolated to particular sectors," says Mark Van Boening, an economics professor at the University of Mississippi. "So some sectors are just really having trouble growing at all."

State economist Darrin Webb says, when it comes to tracking jobs, he looks to employment numbers, which he says show improvement.

"We've got somewhere around 12,000 more people employed now than we did a year ago," he says. "That's improvement. It's not as strong a growth as we'd like to see, but if you look on average in 2014, we're up about nine-tenths of a percent from where we were a year ago. I'd like to see that stronger, but nine-tenths of a percent growth is what we've seen the past two years in terms of employment. Again, not as strong as we'd like to see, but it is improvement."

According to data released by the Mississipppi Department of Employment Security, unemployment varied widely throughout the state, from a high of 18.1 percent in Clay County to a low of 5.1 percent in Rankin County.

Mississippi State University economics professor Kathleen Thomas says unemployment rate differences are often connected to disparities in education and poverty, especially since, she says, public school quality is often tied to an area's wealth.

"And this creates education deficits early on that can really contribute to problems with skill formation and to be able to be consistently well-employed throughout your lifetime," she says.

Thirty-seven Mississippi counties, mostly in the east central part of the state and the Delta, had double-digit unemployment in June. State economist Webb says rural areas are generally suffering the highest unemployment.  

"Years ago, Mississippi had a fair amount of low-skill manufacturing jobs, and a lot of them were located in rural areas," he says. "Those jobs disappeared and they haven't come back. And they are not coming back, so in rural areas, jobs are far more scarce. Nothing replaced those low-skill manufacturing jobs. 



June unemployment by county (source: Mississippi Dept of Employment Security monthly Labor Market Data report)



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