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State’s unemployment trending below national average

For the past six months Mississippi’s unemployment rate has been lower than the national average, following a trend showing the South is leading the country in job creation.

“It is always positive when the numbers are up,” says Wayne Gasson, chief of labor market information for the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC). “Anytime you are doing better than the national average, that is good for Mississippi.”

The April unemployment rate in Mississippi was 4.6%, compared to the national rate of 5.4% and Mississippi’s rate a year ago of 6.3%. According to the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), new facilities and expansions of existing business from January through May of 2004 in Mississippi are expected to create 4,627 news jobs. MDA said there have been 73 new facilities announced, which are expected to create an estimated 1,917 new jobs and bring in an estimated capital investment of approximately $544.16 million.

The largest new facilities unveiled were Textron Fastening Systems in Greenville (500 jobs), Faurecia in Cleveland (250 jobs), D&G Foods in Gallman (200 jobs) and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in Starkville (175 jobs). The largest expansions were ATK Southern Composites Center in Iuka (300 jobs), M-TEK Mississippi Inc. in Gluckstadt (153 jobs), Cingular Wireless Customer Service Center in Ocean Springs (150 jobs) and Pioneer Aerospace Corporation in Columbia (110 jobs).”

Recently, The Christian Science Monitor touted job gains in the South with an article headlined, “South emerges as employment haven.” The article pointed out that despite losing thousands of manufacturing and technology jobs in recent years, the South is now leading the nation in the creation of new jobs.

Contributing factors

The growth of jobs is attributed to a number of factors ranging from the right-to-work climate to the increasing population of people who have left the harsh winters up north to enjoy the milder climate in the Sunbelt. The South is now home to approximately a third of the U.S. population.

The population growth has led to a surge in homebuilding activity. In March an estimated 613,000 new homes were sold in the South, nearly as much as all other regions in the country combined. That homebuilding activity is a real shot in the arm for the economy, said Marty Milstead, executive vice president of the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi.

“There are a lot of spinoff economic benefits that go with building,” Milstead said. “When you build a house, it creates a lot of jobs. Those jobs include retail sales for not just building materials, but appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, and jobs manufacturing building products.”

Milstead said people are making good incomes in the construction industry, and it is an easy career to get into. There is on-the-job training, voc-tech classes and construction majors at four-year college.

“We have a lot of college-educated people in our industry, but you don’t need four years of college to work in the construction trades,” Milstead said. “Not everyone is suited to college. Once you decide on a career path in construction, there are a lot of opportunities to learn to be builder, carpenter or whatever you want to be.”

A few hot jobs

The MESC recently updated its list of the top 20 fastest-growing jobs projected from 2000 to 2010. Construction laborer employment is expected to grow 26%, from 6,320 to 8,000. The average wage is around $20,000 per year. Electricians earn more, an average of $34,810, and the jobs growth for electricians is expected to increase 28% from 5,910 to 7,540.

Two other construction-related jobs on the list of top fastest growing professions include welders, with employment expected to increase from 7,580 to 9,640, an increase of 27%. Welders earn an average of about $30,000 per year. Sheet metal workers earn about $26,710 per year, and are expected to see jobs increase from 2,280 to 2,950 by 2010.

The highest demand for new jobs is expected to be for registered nurses with employment from 2000 of 23,150 expected to growth 31% to 30,430 by 2010. Registered nurses currently earn an average of about $44,000 per year. Licensed practical nurses, who earn an average of $25,280 per year, are expected to grow from 8,900 to 11,420, an increase of 27%.

Demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow by nearly a third, from 3,390 today to 4,320 in 2010. No average wage was available from MESC because this category represents multiple occupations. Other health-related professions expected to grow include dental assistants, expected to increase 47% from 2,130 to 3,130, and medical records and health information technicians, which are expected to see growth of 50% from 1,750 to 2,620.

Medical assistants, with an average wage of about $20,000, are expected to see a 62% growth in demand, from 1,950 to 3,160. Pharmacists are expected to increase from 2,090 to 2,680, an increase of 28% for the profession that has an annual average wage of about $66,000.

The state will also need more secondary school teachers by the end of the decade, with employment expected to increase 26% from 10,300 to 12,990. The average wage for secondary teachers is $33,150. Preschool teachers, with an average wage of $19,740, are expected to increase by 22%.

The number of gaming dealers, who earn approximately $15,530 per year, is projected to go up from 6,870 to 8,880, an increase of 29%. Growth in law enforcement is also expected with correctional officers and jailers (average salary $22,470) expected to increase 34% from 5,710 to 7,680, and police and sheriff’s patrol officer (average salary $26,480) expected to go from 6,170 to 7,640, an increase of 24%. The state is also expected to employ more lawyers, who earn an average of $73,310 per year. The number of attorneys in the state is expected to increase 23% from 5,180 to 6,380.

The profession with the biggest percentage expected growth rate is computer support technicians. That category is expected to increase from 1,840 to 3,450, an increase of 87%. The average wage is $29,380. The occupational projections are compiled from an annual survey of about 4,000 employers in the state. National and state industry trends were used to come up with the salary estimates.

Move toward a service economy?

While the job picture appears to be improving across the country, there are concerns that the U.S. is becoming primarily a service economy. Fewer and fewer goods are being manufactured in the U.S., which is leading to burgeoning trade deficits. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. consumed $51.2 billion more goods than it produced in March. The first quarter trade deficit increased by 8%. The amount of the trade deficit is about $1.65 billion per day.

Pete Walley, director of long range planning for Mississippi, said the state and country face major challenges competing in the global economy.

“We are all preaching the value of education, training and life-long learning and how, as a state, we should become more innovative and productive to compete in the global economy,” Walley said. “That message is insufficient and incomplete. We must have a more focused effort on the kinds of goods and services for Mississippi’s economy if we do not want to fall farther behind.”

Walley said average Mississippians don’t understand the impact of the global economy on the state, and will be sadly disappointed when the realities affect them even more than it does now.

A recent example of how the global economy can affect jobs in the U.S. is the decision by Boeing aircraft to purchase several hundred million dollars in aircraft parts from China. Boeing was already planning to use Japanese and Italian support to produce jets.

Walley says whether acknowledged or not, Mississippi is well into the second structural change in it’s economy in less than 70 years. He defines structural change as fundamental and long-term changes as opposed to the periodic ups and downs of the economy.

“In my opinion, this is going to have a far greater impact on the state’s economy than the shift from agriculture to manufacturing,” Walley said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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