Home » OPINION » Columns » BILL CRAWFORD — Uplifting Jackson forum hints at rural gloom

BILL CRAWFORD — Uplifting Jackson forum hints at rural gloom

BILL CRAWFORD

Growing economic trends bode ill for rural America.

“We are witnessing a growing economic and political divide between urban and rural America,” wrote Axios last week, pointing to some significant data. “Roughly half of all U.S. zip codes still have lower total employment than they did in 2007….Rural Americans have far fewer hospitals, workout facilities, and health specialists….Big employers and better technology makes cities magnets for better teachers, schools, and specialized training….Democrats own the fast-growing cities and Republicans rule rural.”

The Economic Innovation Group reported, “Today’s jobs are going almost exclusively to people with education beyond high school, and those jobs are going to thriving communities….Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000.”

Uh, Mississippi is pretty much all rural and full of distressed communities, are these trends going to whack us even more?

Here’s a hint.

Last week at a Focus on Jackson gathering hosted by the Wise Carter law firm, three Jackson hospital executives and the head of the state hospital association highlighted the massive economic impact hospitals have on the Jackson economy, e.g. nearly 30% of salaries and 23% of jobs are hospital-related. The gist was that Jacksonians should take pride in their hospitals and the economic and health care benefits they provide, while at the same time understand that sustaining them is crucial to the city’s economy and advanced medical care for state residents.

While regulatory, political, and demographic trends were said to pose financial challenges for Jackson’s hospitals, the outlook presented suggested a more dismal future for Mississippi’s rural hospitals. From financially struggling regional hospitals to cash-strapped small hospitals, the prognosis was for additional hospital closures. As this happens, the need for Jackson hospitals to pick up the slack will only grow.

No solutions emerged during the presentations.

No solutions are likely to emerge from state politicians currently in power either. Their focus is on tax cuts, reducing state spending, and upcoming elections, not on sustaining health care economic engines in rural areas or addressing other trends impacting rural communities. Indeed, there is no state plan to help small towns survive, much less thrive.

The budget recommendations presented by Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders were keep-things-going-like-they-are proposals. Indications were that no controversial or challenging issues will be confronted during next year’s legislative session in order to keep things calm just before statewide elections. Maybe there will be a token pay raise to make teachers happy. Likely there will be some additional goodies given out for favored businesses and communities.

In light of all this you might want to keep the following in the back of your mind through next November. It comes from a just released Pew Trust report on the growth of personal income since the Great Recession.

“The second-longest U.S. economic expansion has played out unevenly across the states,” the report begins. It shows top states, most west of the Mississippi, had average annual income growth of 2.5% to 3.3% since 2007 (the U.S. averaged 1.9%). Bottom states averaged less than 1%. There were three, Connecticut at .8% followed by Illinois and, of course, Mississippi at .9%.

Since you’ll wonder, neighboring states came in like this, Tennessee 2.1%, Arkansas 1.6%, Alabama 1.2%, and Louisiana 1.0%.

» Bill Crawford is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.

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