A drop in payroll employment during parts of 2012 led economists to say Mississippi had dipped back into recession. Payrolls have fallen every year since 2007, and Hill predicts payrolls will end 2012 basically flat, before growing by 1 percent in 2013.

"There's some improvement next year because it looks like construction is coming back," she said. "Building permits are improving."

There are also signs that the number of independent contractors is increasing in the state, a measure that's not captured by the payroll survey. The state unemployment rate is expected to fall slowly to 7.2 percent by 2017.

Despite the poor performance this year, per capita income in Mississippi is expected to expand by 2.5 percent. Hill said people who have jobs are doing pretty well, as bosses try to load more work on existing employees. But they're reluctant to hire new workers.

The relative prosperity of those who are employed has helped drive increases in state tax revenues, although that positive trend has wobbled in recent months

Some others see more positive signs. A survey of business owners and managers along the Mississippi coast shows that they expect a modestly improving economy in the state's second-largest urban region. The Gulf Coast Business Council survey showed an improvement in business confidence since July. After four months of recession, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's calculations showed economic growth for Mississippi in August and September. The bank's index of leading economic indicators, which predicts growth in the next six months, showed sharp acceleration in Mississippi in September. The latest month's output predicts Mississippi will grow faster than the nation over the next half-year.

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