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Ranking first not always best

As I See IT

Ranking first is usually a laudable goal toward which everyone aspires. However, there are situations where ranking first is decidedly uninspiring. Let’s start with the

“goods.”

Mississippi led the nation in per capita disposable income growth between 1990 and 1997. Similarly, we led the nation in worker hourly wage increase for the same period.

These gains are clear indication that our state was a full participant in the economic miracle of the 1990s. Lest we get too giddy over these statistics, our wages are still at

the bottom end of the national scale and further improvement is sorely needed.

In fact, at $18,087, we ranked dead last in per capita income for 1997. Even more telling, we ranked last in manufacturing pay. For the economy to grow, I mean really

grow, our wealth-producing sectors, i.e. manufacturing, mining, agriculture and construction, must be in good shape. Otherwise, we end up merely swapping dollars with

each other in the service sector. Having the lowest manufacturing wage rates in the nation is discouraging.

Our economic development efforts need to concentrate on wealth-producing industries and not expend our resources on trying to attract every business that might

conceivably want to locate here. The new Nissan plant coming to Madison County is a giant step in the right direction.

We lead the nation in the ratio of females to males. Fifty-two percent of Mississippi’s population is female. I don’t know how that relates to this column, but I thought it

was interesting and so I threw it in.

And now for some bad stuff, real bad stuff. We lead the nation in the number of births to unwed mothers and our infant mortality rate is the highest in the U.S. We also

rank tops in the percentage of the population receiving SSI benefits and the number of families with children that are headed by a single parent.

Though Mississippi has prospered through the decade of the 90s, we are still in bad shape relative to the rest of the country. How can we move ahead? The solution lies in

positively influencing our young people. They are the keys to improving our future. Quite simply, the answer is influence, education, and motivation.

Young people are making decisions everyday that dramatically affect their, and our, future. They choose whether to have a baby, stay in school, rob a store or learn a

trade. At that age, they are very easily influenced by parents, peers and the media. Just a touch of positive influence can make a world of difference for them.

Today, anyone with average intelligence can get training and become a valuable member of society. Scholarship and student loan programs abound. The construction

industry, for example, is begging for youngsters to join their ranks. The projected shortages of workers in the health care industry is alarming. Education is available and

good jobs await those who put their shoulder to the wheel.

Why are so many young people languishing in poverty when such opportunity abounds? For some reason, they don’t believe that they can live the American dream. The

cotton is in the field and there’s no one out there picking it.

A young person with the insight to see the future would not choose to be an unwed mother, provide inadequate health care to her infant and move into adulthood receiving

welfare assistance. Young males would not aspire to a life behind bars. Nonetheless, scores of youngsters are making those very choices everyday in Mississippi. They

are clearly being influenced by something other than a positive role model.

To have a better tomorrow, all of us need to do what we can to improve the plight of youth. We can be role models and positively influence youngsters toward applying

themselves to building a good life for themselves. We should be alert for opportunities to volunteer our time and energy in projects that will encourage young people to

make choices today that will lift them, and ultimately, our state off the bottom of the economic heap. This is an opportunity for the most fortunate among us to lift up the

less fortunate through investment of our time.

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

— 2 TIMOTHY 1:7

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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