Happy New Year America! With economic growth at 5%, gasoline prices below $2 a gallon, and unemployment below 6%, all is great.
Not so fast, as Lee Corso likes to say. Despite some football successes, everything is not great for Mississippi. Let’s get Corso’s pencil out and figure some numbers.
In Mississippi, year-over-year jobs were down 13,600 or 1.2% in November (according to state Annual Labor Force Reports). This compares to a 2% increase nationally (according to federal Labor Force Statistics).
Following the Great Recession, Mississippi’s average annual labor force rebounded to a peak in 2011. But, since then the trend has been down. The 2014 average was 70,300 lower through November than the 2011 average. That’s 70,300 Mississippians who just quit looking for work.
Over the same period, jobs in Mississippi fell 26,700 or 2.2%, while they increased nationally by 4.5%.
Fewer job opportunities discourage people from looking for work.
What to do?
Labor Force Statistics indicate Mississippi’s private sector grew jobs slightly while public sector jobs (federal, state, and local government) decreased slightly over the past year.
One thought might be for the legislature to spend more money on education and other services to grow public sector jobs. However, the public sector already accounts for 21.5% of all Mississippi jobs, compared to the national average of 15.4%. Clearly, more private sector jobs are needed.
Then, again, to get more private sector jobs, especially higher paying ones, Mississippi needs a better educated workforce (the state ranked next to last in educational attainment in the latest Census). That calls for greater investments in education and training.
On the other hand, Mississippi needs better incentives to attract more private sector jobs. So that’s where state investment of limited funds should go.
But, Mississippi needs to upgrade infrastructure statewide and in many communities to attract more private sector jobs. So the state should invest in highways and programs that support industrial park and utility development.
What to do?
The reality is different areas of the state need different types of investments. Poor counties with bad schools, workforces, and infrastructure need long-term investments in education…that’s their only hope. Other better-off counties have adequate schools and workforces but need investments in incentives and/or infrastructure to grow jobs. Investments in highway maintenance are crucial in some areas.
One size fits all is not the answer. A little bit for everybody is unlikely to work either.
Hard choices to prioritize investments are needed. Not so fast, 2015 is an election year, a time when politicians like to please everyone to help their re-election. It’s not a good year for hard choices.
We can only hope the governor and legislature have the gumption to make New Year’s resolutions with economic growth at the top.
Have a Happy New Year anyway.