Neshoba County's unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in December, as people continued to drop out of the labor force.

But, the county's labor force dropped from 12,300 to 12,250 during December. It was at 13,080 in December 2012 when the jobless rate was at 7.5 percent.

Mississippi's unemployment rate fell to 8 percent in December. A separate survey showed state employer payrolls rising slowly, painting an overall picture of a state economy slowly continuing to improve, but still lagging the national recovery.

Both sets of figures - adjusted to cancel out normal seasonal changes - were released by the U.S Labor Department.

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.

Additionally, labor statistics do not count someone who is out of work but not looking for a job as unemployed.

Neshoba County's December jobless rate was the ninth lowest of the state's 82 counties, with only Rankin, DeSoto, Lafayette, Madison, Lamar, Scott, Union and Jones posting lower rates.

The county had 11,540 people employed in December and 710 unemployed, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

Statistics, which date back to January 1970, show the county's highest unemployment rate for December came in 1983 when it reached 11.6 percent. The lowest rate for that period was in 1996 when it was 2.8 percent.

For calendar year 2013, Neshoba County's average unemployment was at 6.8 percent. The highest rate was 8.4 percent in January. The lowest was 5.8 percent in December.

Mississippi's 8 percent unemployment was the lowest state jobless rate since January 2009, a point early during the recession when businesses were laying off thousands of people.

Mississippi's unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in November. The state jobless rate was 8.9 percent in December 2012.

December's rate tied Mississippi with Kentucky for the seventh-worst jobless rate in the nation.

Rhode Island had the nation's worst jobless rate at 9.1 percent, while North Dakota was again lowest at 2.6 percent. Unemployment rates fell or were unchanged in 44 U.S. states in December. The Labor Department said Tuesday that employers added jobs to payrolls in 30 states and cut jobs 19.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December from 7 percent in November. It was also below the 7.9 percent level of December 2012. Like in Mississippi, the December nationwide drop stemmed from people giving up their job search.

The Labor Department reports 102,000 Mississippians were unemployed in November, down from 107,000 in November and 119,000 in December 2012.

That decline was more than cancelled out by a 9,000-person decline in the labor force, meaning fewer people actually reported having jobs. Mississippi's labor force has fallen nearly 5 percent in the last two years, as people have retired, gone back to school or otherwise given up looking for work.

Mississippi's nonfarm payrolls rose by 500 during December to 1.13 million people. That's 19,000 above year-ago payroll levels, a healthy improvement. But Mississippi remains almost 4 percent below the pre-recession high.

Employment rose during the month in trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; education and health services and government. Jobs fell in manufacturing and leisure and hospitality. Payrolls were flat in construction and financial activities.

The broadest measure of those who are unemployed averaged 15 percent in Mississippi during the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 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 14.1 percent during the same time.

December jobless rates in counties that adjoin Neshoba:

• Winston, 10.7 percent.

• Kemper, 10 percent.

• Lauderdale, 7.5 percent.

• Newton, 6.5 percent.

• Scott, 5.2 percent.

• Leake, 8.3 percent.

• Attala, 9.1 percent.

- The Associated Press contributed to this article.