Mississippi Needs Every Job

Governor Haley Barbour’s announcement of 1,000 potential new jobs could not have come at a better time. In another bad sign for Mississippi’s economy, our unemployment rate jumped to 11.5 percent in July.

That means another 6,000 people are out of work, pushing the total to about 152,000. Mississippi now has the 6th highest unemployment rate among the 50 states and the highest rate among our surrounding states. July rates for our neighbors were: Alabama 9.4 percent, Arkansas 7.7 percent, Louisiana 7.6 percent, and Tennessee 9.6 percent. The national unemployment rate for July was 9.5 percent, the same as in June.

When employment dropped about 3,000 jobs from May to June, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Department of Forecast and Analysis described the state’s economy as “losing momentum.” The description should be worse in the upcoming edition of “Mississippi’s Business.”

The Governor called a special session of the Mississippi Legislature for Friday to consider $50 million in financial incentives for a $500 million economic development prospect. This follows the governor’s announcement in May that Twin Creeks Technologies would employ 512 at a solar panel manufacturing facility in Senatobia and recent moves by Toyota and PACCAR, two other projects the governor helped land, to start hiring. The Toyota assembly plant near Tupelo is expected to employ 2,000. The PACCAR plant that manufactures diesel engines for large trucks near Columbus is expected to employ 500.

While these are much needed jobs, Mississippi’s dire job situation will require many more jobs to get back on even keel.

Compared to 10 years ago, the state has about 73,000 fewer people employed, according to nonfarm employment figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; 42,000 fewer are employed than five years ago. The big loser has been the manufacturing sector, which lost 106,000 jobs since 2000; 51,000 since 2005. This trend continued over the past 12 months when 4,400 manufacturing jobs were lost, about a third of those since June. In 1995, manufacturing provided one of every four jobs in Mississippi. As of July 2010, that ratio has fallen to one out of eight.

Since the year 2000, growth in government jobs has helped offset manufacturing job losses, but, as expected, that sector took a downturn last month. Government jobs fell 4,400 from June to July. While the sector remains up nearly 5 percent over the 10-year period, more job losses are projected as federal stimulus funds dry up. Government accounts for nearly one out of every four jobs in Mississippi.

Given the national and world economic slowdowns, there is little the state can do to spur job growth … except take advantage of every new job opportunity that comes along. I’m sure our legislators recognize that fact.

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