Mississippi’s economy is gradually growing stronger, but the state still has 44,000 fewer jobs now than it did before the recession, state economist Darrin Webb told legislative budget writers Friday.

Employment numbers in the state have been up in some months and down in others.

“What you see is sort of sputtering growth in employment,” Webb said. “It shows that we are really struggling to gain momentum, but we are growing.”

The strongest contributor to job growth in Mississippi this year is the manufacturing sector, particularly for making vehicles, ships and furniture. In 2013, the biggest growth came in temporary jobs.

Experts think Mississippi will end the year with 1.4 percent growth in its gross domestic product, which would be slightly lower than the 1.6 percent growth in 2013, Webb said.

In Mississippi and other parts of the nation, many young people are slow to marry and form new households, partly because they’re leaving college with a significant amount of debt, he said. That, in turn, is affecting the demand for housing.

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