The two Mississippis and our economy

July 17, 2011

COLUMNS

It doesn’t matter what the economic reports are. If you can’t pay your bills, the recession is not over.

Mississippi’s economy is one of haves and have nots. With one in four of our labor force working for a government entity and a large dependence on the service sector, we find ourselves with a higher unemployment rate than the national average. For this slow-paced state, slow growth feels like backwards movement for some.

The national unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, but here in Mississippi, we are tipping the scales at over 10 percent. Add in the folks who have given up on the job market and you have a slice of 17 percent of our population struggling to make ends meet. While there have been several announcements of company expansions in the last few months, it’s not enough to drain the labor pool. Meanwhile, food stamp usage is on the rise.

In the midst of this gloom comes news that the state ended its fiscal year with a surplus, $62 million to be exact. Revenue came in 4.2 percent higher than projected — suddenly, a bright spot. Mississippians are spending again, and as that money circulates in our local economy, it offers hope of improvements in our labor statistics.

We are not out of the woods, though. With fiscal year 2012 comes the loss of federal stimulus dollars. Our current surplus is not enough to cover the gap, but maybe it’s enough to prevent further job losses on the government side. Revenue improvements give legislators ammunition for holding the line.

For a slice of our population, the recession has long since passed. Their jobs are secure. Their incomes are rising. But another slice is still struggling to find full employment and a working wage. Overall, the numbers show continued improvement, but the bigger concern is the two Mississippis that continue to diverge.

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