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State economist: Mississippi economy grows, but lags US

A late summer pickup in job growth could boost Mississippi’s economic output for 2017, state economist Darrin Webb said Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean the Magnolia State’s economy is off to the races.

Webb told an audience at Millsaps College that the state appears to be on track for its overall economic output to expand for the first back-to-back years since 2007 and 2008. Still, Webb said he expects Mississippi will continue to grow more slowly than the nation, which means the gap between incomes for Mississippians and nationwide could keep widening.

Webb said he currently expects Mississippi’s economy to grow 1.5 percent this, revised down from an earlier 1.7 percent. That’s better than last year, when Mississippi only grew 0.7 percent. It also outstrips four years of contraction in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014.

“Our recovery has been far more modest than these other states,” Webb said, showing figures that Mississippi trails all Southern states but Louisiana in post-recession growth.

After a swoon in employer payrolls in the spring, the numbers recovered in July and August. Webb said Mississippi is back on track to have employment grow by 1 percent or more.

Webb said that he believes that many Mississippians were working outside the state in the oil industry and lost jobs or had their incomes cut when oil prices plunged, slowing consumer spending and the overall Mississippi economy. Webb also repeated his analysis that Mississippi is likely to continue to grow slowly because its people lag the nation in educational, health and social advantages.

“We’re a poor state with all the issues that come with poverty,” Webb said.

The Mississippi outlook comes amid a nationwide outlook for steady, modest, growth. Patrick Newport, the director of long term economic forecasting at IHS Global Insight said the firm foresees U.S. expansion of roughly 1.5 percent this year, with growth above 2 percent in following years.

“It’s not very exciting, but it’s better than the rest of the world,” Newport said.

Newport said the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates in December if job growth holds up, but said that over the long-term, the Fed and other economists now expect slower growth than in previous decades, as well as lower interest rates. One troubling economic problem is a decrease in productivity growth, meaning output per person is not growing as rapidly as it once was.

“In the long run, your ability to lift the standard of living depends on productivity,” Newport said.


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