JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi's unemployment rate dipped in March, as more people found jobs and fewer people sought them.
The decrease came after two months of increases. The Friday report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics lined up with a separate survey showing employer payrolls continue to creep up in Mississippi.
The jobless rate fell to 9.4 percent from 9.6 percent in February, though it remained above the 9 percent rate of March 2012.
The main factor driving down the jobless rate was a 7,000-person decrease in the labor force, as some people stopped looking for work.
Nevada had the highest jobless rate among the states in March at 9.7 percent, while Mississippi tied for third-highest with California, as unemployment rates in other states drop more rapidly. North Dakota again had the lowest rate at 3.3 percent.
The national unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 percent in February. It was also below the 8.2 percent level of March 2012.
The number of Mississippians who reported having a job rose slightly even as the state's labor force shrank. The state reported 125,000 unemployed people in March, down from 128,000 in February, but above the 120,000 reported in March 2012.
Mississippi's job market and economy have been giving mixed signals in recent months. Jobless rates rose in January in February even as payrolls and other economic indicators have been positive.
The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.
Mississippi payrolls rose to 1.12 million in March, up by fewer than 1,000 employees in February but almost 15,000 above March 2012 levels.
The professional and business services sector continued its momentum. With workers added in March, the sector has now added almost 10,000 employees in Mississippi over the last 12 months. Also rising were trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; leisure and hospitality and financial activities. Jobs fell in the construction, government and manufacturing sectors.
Despite recent payroll growth, the state remains nearly 4 percent or 45,000 jobs short of its all-time peak.
The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 15.1 percent in Mississippi during 2012, the most recent figures available. That number includes people who are looking for work only sporadically, have given up looking or are working part time because they can't find a full-time job.
Nationwide, that broad measure averaged 14.7 percent during the same time.
County-level rates will be released later.
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