Leaders Must Prioritize Investments to Grow Jobs

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. Let’s get Katy Perry’s big pencil out and figure some numbers for Mississippi.

A look at the number of Mississippians with jobs in November (according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security Annual Labor Force Reports) shows a year-over-year decrease of 13,600 jobs or 1.2%. The November 2013 number of 1,175,500 jobs fell to 1,161,900 by November 2014. In comparison, total jobs nationally increased by 2%.

A look at Mississippi’s total labor force (total labor force includes people with jobs plus unemployed people looking for jobs) shows a decrease of 57,400 or 4.4%. In January 2013 it totaled 1,298,900. By November 2014, it had fallen to 1,241,500,

That’s 57,400 Mississippians over 22 months who just quit looking for work.

Post Great Depression, Mississippi’s peak average annual labor force occurred in 2011 at 1,329,600. That’s 70,300 higher than Mississippi’s average through November of 2014.

Over the same period, jobs fell 26,700 or 2.2%, from 1,189,300 to 1,162,600.

So, everything’s not great for Mississippi.

Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers indicate Mississippi’s private sector jobs grew 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 add public sector jobs. However, public sector jobs already account for 21.5% of all jobs in Mississippi, 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.

On the other hand, Mississippi needs better incentives to attract more private sector jobs. So that’s where state investments should go.

But, Mississippi needs to upgrade infrastructure 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.

The reality is that different areas of the state need different types of investment. Several poor counties have bad schools, workforces, infrastructure and prospects. Long-term investments in education are their only hope. Other better-off counties have adequate schools and workforces but need better incentives and/or upgraded infrastructure to grow jobs.

One size fits all is not the answer. A little bit for everybody is unlikely to work either.

Looks like a great 2015 for Mississippi will take some hard choices to prioritize investments for job growth, a task made even harder by election year politics.

Have a Happy New Year anyway.

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