By JEFF AMYJACKSON, Miss. (AP) â¿¿ Mississippi's unemployment rose again in February, but that bad sign was contradicted by a strong rise in the number of jobs on employer payrolls. The clashing numbers, gathered through separate surveys, raise questions about whether Mississippi's economy is on the mend or headed back to intensive care. The jobless rate rose to 9.6 percent from 9.3 percent in January, and was also above the 9.2 percent rate of February 2012. The last time the state's jobless rate was higher was in December 2011. A separate survey of employer payrolls shows nonfarm employees rose by 5,500 from January and stood 17,000 above February 2012. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported figures Wednesday. The number of people who reported having a job fell slightly and the state's labor force shrank. Mississippi reported 128,000 unemployed people in February, up from 125,000 in January and 122,000 in February 2012. The state's job market grew in the fall after struggling earlier in 2012. Overall recovery from the recession has been slow, with 3.8 percent fewer jobs than in January 2008. But even as the jobless rate rose in January and February, other economic signs have been promising. Payroll numbers have jumped and tax receipts have kept rising. Last week, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank released measures showing that Mississippi's economy had grown by nearly 1 percent in the last three months, one of the strongest performances in the country. The national unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in February from 7.9 percent in January. It remained below the 8.3 percent level of February 2012. 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.