Other Opinions

State economy struggles to hit half the national growth rate

“State economists lower forecast for remainder of year,” read the Mississippi Business Journal headline on Oct. 27.

“Mississippi’s state economists have pulled back on an already-weak economic forecast for the rest of 2016, projecting that the state’s economy will grow only 1.5 percent instead of the 1.6 percent previously predicted,” the story said.

“U.S. economy roars back, grew at 2.9 percent in third quarter,” read the Wall Street Journal headline on Oct. 30.

“It was the strongest quarterly reading in two years after three straight quarters of sub-2 percent growth,” the story said.

Hmmm.

Our leaders in Jackson like to blame Mississippi’s weak economy on the “Obama economy.” Looks like the Obama economy did OK outside of Mississippi. But none of this has much relevance to Mississippi’s economic situation.

The simple fact is that Mississippi’s economy underperforms because, over time, our income and employment have been stagnant, eroding our economic engines in many communities.

In August, Bloomberg.com reported Mississippi had the greatest drop in real median household income among all 50 states from 1999 to 2014. It was down a whopping 23.1 percent. Real median household income is adjusted for inflation.

More recently, real median household income has flatlined. It was $40,061 in 2010 and slightly up at $40,593 in 2015.

Similarly, total employment was basically flat. In 2010, employment averaged 1,170,900 vs. 1,189,700 for 2015, a meager 1.6 percent total increase over five years.

Oh, but Gov. Phil Bryant in August told the Vicksburg Post that nearly 50,000 Mississippians were working today who did not have jobs in 2011.

Well, not exactly. In August 2016, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported the number of employed Mississippians was 1,197,800. In August 2011, the department reported the number of employed Mississippians was 1,204,100. Uh, that’s a 6,300 drop.

Now, those figures are the true measure of the number of Mississippians working.

However, if you look at the number of people employed in Mississippi in non-agricultural jobs, i.e., business and government, whether residents of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana or elsewhere, there were 1,141,600 employed in August 2016 vs. 1,088,800 in August 2011. That difference is 52,800 to the good.

So between 2011 and 2016, an additional 50,000 people were working in Mississippi, but they either weren’t Mississippians or, less likely, they had transitioned from farm jobs to business or government jobs.

And that hits at the crux of the problem. We need lots more Mississippi residents with jobs and better incomes.

Now comes a new study from the Mississippi State Extension Service showing 57 counties in Mississippi lost population from 2014 to 2015. Negative net migration, as it is called, is a negative economic indicator. People move to booming places but away from stagnant places.

In the same vein, those employment reports mentioned above showed Mississippi’s total labor force decreased by 65,000 from August 2011 to August 2016.

Hmmm.

Flatlined income and employment. Population and labor force declining. Not surprising most politicians look to place blame elsewhere. An extraordinary few might own it and fix it.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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