I grew up on the Coast of Mississippi — before the casinos. Ingall’s Shipbuilding anchored the industrial business in that part of the country, but there was little else. Tourism was important to the area, but it was small-time tourism: souvenir shops, sno-cone shacks, and seafood restaurants.
The people of the Coast are an eclectic group. Many have come from south Louisiana and possess that certain Cajun worldview. Others came through the military and settled there after stints at Keesler Air Force Base. The religion of choice was Catholic, and the preferred activity was simply having a good time.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this part of the state is not particularly wealthy. In fact, during my time there, I noted a decided lack of desire for wealth. People worked to live, not the other way around. The education system was good, but many graduated from high school with little ambition to go any further. Regular, middle-class neighborhoods full of regular, middle-class folks just getting by.
The economic data from the entire state is looking good. Sales tax revenue is up. Foreclosures are down, and unemployment is gradually declining. But in the three coastal counties of Jackson, Harrison, and Hancock, the story is different.
While coastal casino revenue is up slightly month-over-month, and showing decent gains from a year ago, overall sales tax revenue in these three counties has declined recently. In addition, unemployment is actually inching up. Why the different story?
First, we know that lower-end workers have been hit harder in this recession. Unemployment among the college educated is only 4-5 percent, but the less educated are taking it on the chin. Areas dependent on service jobs are struggling to climb back, as businesses add and subtract workers easily with each sales report.
In addition, these three counties are still suffering the after effects of Hurricane Katrina. Cross the county borders to the north, and you’ll find bustling communities. After the storm, people and businesses left, and many did not come back.
The Coast has suffered the triple whammy, with a storm, a recession, and an oil spill, but they are still not knocked out. While development is slow, things are starting to happen. A new port will certainly help revive the area. More business should follow.
As I pored over the poor economic data from my native Coast, I knew the recovery was years away. My only consolation? At least, it’s not the Delta.
>> Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is email@example.com, and her website is www.newper.com.