Mississippi reached record-low unemployment in an economic report on Tuesday, drawing boasts from both Democratic President Joe Biden and the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves.

“Our economy is firing on all cylinders, which is why we continue to make history,” the governor said in a statement on Tuesday following the release of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest state data for May. “There are more jobs in Mississippi than ever before, which is truly a victory worth celebrating. We’ll continue fighting for good-paying, high-quality jobs that attract more residents to our great state.”

The report showed that Mississippi’s total non-farm employment reached a record high of 1,191,300 jobs and just 34,605 Mississippians who wanted jobs remained unemployed. Mississippi's unemployment rate is now 2.8%.

“My economic plan is creating good-paying jobs in Mississippi—more than 27,000 Mississippians have gained jobs since I took office, and unemployment is at a record low of 2.8%,” Biden said in a White House statement on Tuesday.

The national unemployment rate is 4%, down from 6.4% when Biden took office in January 2021. At that time, Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 6.5%.

Nation’s Lowest Labor Force Participation Rate

Despite the low unemployment rate, Mississippi’s labor-force participation rate remains the lowest in the nation at 54.3%, down from 55.4% when Reeves took office in January 2020. At the time, Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 5.6%.

While the unemployment rate measures the percent of the population who are able and want to work but lack a job, it does not count those who are able but not looking for work. The labor-force participation rate measures the “percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work,” the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey says.

Closeup of a man in a suit speaking into a mic
Mississippi State Economist Corey Miller said it is “hard to get a good handle on” Mississippi’s persistently low labor force participation rate. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

In an interview on Wednesday morning, State Economist Corey Miller noted that the state has come a long way since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“If you look at where we’ve come since the start of the pandemic in (March) 2020, our unemployment number has been cut by over half. So that explains a lot of the low unemployment rate. Unfortunately that has not translated to employment growth, so when you look at the labor force participation rate, you have had over 40,000 people leave the labor force since February 2020,” he said. “And so that is a reason why we have a lower labor force participation rate than we had a couple years ago or four years ago.”

“Our population hasn’t changed much, it’s gone up just a little bit so that hasn’t affected the calculation of the participation rate,” he continued. “The biggest reason is because the people who are no longer unemployed are not in the labor force, and I don’t know what’s happened to these folks, if they’re not looking for jobs or what—are they still in the state? It’s hard to get a good handle on that.”

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate dropped to 60% in April 2020, but was back to 62.5% in May 2024. In Mississippi, the labor force participation rate dropped to a low of 52.9% in April 2020 and recovered to 55.3% in April 2022 only to fall back to the current 54.3%.

Miller said he did not think a rise in disabilities after the pandemic likely caused the drop in labor-force participation, but he said it could be part of “a combination of a lot of things like that or say, people took early retirement or haven’t come back to the workforce or women who were working and stopped to take care of their kids may not have gone back.” He also noted that the increase in retiring Baby Boomers leaving the workforce has contributed to a decline in the labor-force participation rate in recent years.

Hosemann Announces Labor Force Study Group

In a statement on Tuesday, Republican Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann named a new Labor Force Participation Study Group to investigate the issue.

“It is the Legislature’s job to examine how our state laws and appropriations help or hinder Mississippi’s opportunities for positive growth and prosperity,” Hosemann said. “Both of these topics have tremendous potential to move the needle in terms of economic development, tourism, health outcomes, educational attainment, and other major factors which determine our future trajectory as a state and in our communities.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann calls on the next bill to be brought before the body in the Senate chamber
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann named a new Labor Force Participation Study Group to investigate the state’s low labor force participation rate on Tuesday, June 25, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The study group will make legislative recommendations to help increase the state’s workforce. Hosemann named Republican Sen. Daniel Sparks of Belmont, Miss., as its chair. Other members will include Sens. Jason Barrett, R-Brookhaven; Lydia Chassinol, R-Winona; Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville; Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall; Tyler McCaughn, R-Newton; Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson; David Parker, R-Olive Branch; Derrick Simmons, R-Greenville; Sarita Simmons, D-Cleveland; Mike Thompson, R-Gulfport; and Bart Williams, R-Starkville.

The announcement says the study group will hold hearings in the summer and early fall to hear from experts and state agency leaders.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Sen. Sarita Simmons as being a Republican from Jackson; she is a Democrat from Cleveland. We apologize for the error.

Award-winning News Editor Ashton Pittman, a native of the South Mississippi Pine Belt, studied journalism and political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. Previously the state reporter at the Jackson Free Press, he drove national headlines and conversations with award-winning reporting about segregation academies. He has won numerous awards, including Outstanding New Journalist in the South, for his work covering immigration raids, abortion battles and even former Gov. Phil Bryant’s unusual work with “The Bad Boys of Brexit" at the Jackson Free Press. In 2021, as a Crirec reporter, he was named the Diamond Journalist of the Year for seven southern U.S. states in the Society of Professional Journalists Diamond Awards. A trained photojournalist, Ashton lives in South Mississippi with his husband, William, and their two pit bulls, Dorothy and Dru. Follow on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].