Rise in state unemployment high

Published 10:49 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

Job losses in several sectors, including education and health care, caused Mississippi to be one of two states with the nation’s largest increase in unemployment rates.

The jobless rate in the two states rose by .9 percent between June and July, according to figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mississippi’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July was 7.9 percent.

In South Carolina, the unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, the highest in nearly three years. Officials blamed the increase on schools closed for the summer and thousands of layoffs in manufacturing.

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Mississippi lost 1,800 jobs in manufacturing and about 400 construction jobs.

Marianne Hill, senior economist with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, said the 1,100 job losses in the education and health services sector were surprising. Hill said it could have been related to the uncertainty over the state’s funding of Medicaid, a health care program for the needy that’s paid for by state and federal dollars.

Lawmakers were in and out of session for two months trying to reach a resolution over the health program’s budget. Gov. Haley Barbour plans to tax hospitals to make up a $90 million Medicaid budget shortfall. The Mississippi Hospital Association is opposed to the plan that goes into effect Sept. 1. MHA has warned that it would lead to hospital budget cuts and layoffs.

“There was some uncertainty as to what would be happening. It recently was resolved,” Hill said Friday. “Maybe you will find a bump up (in jobs) in August.”

But MHA spokeswoman Shawn Zehnder Lea said she doesn’t know of any job cuts related to the Medicaid situation.

“Many hospitals have been working to educate their employees and their local communities of the economic danger these Medicaid cuts pose to their facilities,” Lea said. “But, at this point, most hospitals are in a wait-and-see mode.”

Last month, South Central Regional Medical Center laid off 45 employees and Natchez Regional Medical Center cut 65 jobs in May.

Kathryn Stokes, spokeswoman for the state Department of Employment Security, said the agency didn’t know the reason for job losses in health and education but that it’s not a seasonal trend.

Hill said Mississippi had been bucking the national economic slump, but it appears the trend has finally hit the state.