Economist: Mississippi and U.S. see modest growth

Economic NewsBy Emily Wagster Pettus

Associated Press

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s economy is outpacing the national economy, although both are growing at a relatively slow rate, an expert told lawmakers Thursday.

State economist Darrin Webb told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that Mississippi had 1.9 percent growth in its gross domestic product in the first half of 2013 and he expects the rate to be 1.8 percent by year’s end. He said the national economy is growing 1.6 percent.

“The state has really been slow to the party when it comes to job growth, but remarkable improvement has been made in the last 12 months,” Webb said. “Employment did dip in July. This is not too surprising, given the moderation of growth that is taking place nationally.”

He said Mississippi added about 25,000 jobs in the past 12 months, after losing jobs in 2009 and 2010 and having flat employment in 2011.

“I suspect that many of the jobs being added in the state are relatively low-paying and possibly part-time, and that is why we can have strong job growth but relatively modest income growth,” Webb said. “It also appears that many of the jobs being added may be temporary jobs, which strengthens the argument that the employment data are overstating the recovery.”

Poverty remains pervasive

Webb’s remarks to lawmakers came the same day the U.S. Census Bureau released information about income and poverty. It showed Mississippi had the lowest median income in the U.S. in 2012, at $37,095. Half the households earn less than that amount, and half earn more.

Maryland had the highest, at $71,122. The national median income was $51,324.

Mississippi had the highest poverty rate in the U.S. in 2012, at 24.2 percent, the Census Bureau said. Mississippi was one of three states with an increase in the poverty rate from 2011 to 2012. The others were California and New Hampshire.

Webb said he expects state and national economic growth to pick up the next two years. He also said, in response to a lawmaker’s question, that he believes that uncertainty about the federal health overhaul is making some businesses hesitant to hire people.

After the Budget Committee meeting, House Speaker Philip Gunn said: “I would like to point out — I may be very political here — I don’t think it’s any coincidence that beginning in 2012, Mississippi’s growth began to outpace the nation. Mississippi’s job creation began to explode… In 2012, we, as the governor said, passed the most business-friendly legislation in the history of the state of Mississippi. Those things are not coincidences. Those things coincided with the Republicans taking over in Mississippi.”

Republicans have held the Mississippi governorship for all but four years since 1992, and the GOP controlled the state Senate several years before it also took control of the House in early 2012.

Sen. Willie Simmons of Cleveland, a Democrat who serves on the Budget Committee, said in response to Gunn’s remarks: “We’ve been down so long in a recession, I think we would’ve seen some turnaround regardless of who’s in leadership. But I do appreciate the fact that we seem to be working together these days, trying to generate and do some things that would bring more jobs.”

Simmons said the Delta remains one of the poorest parts of the state.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said the U.S. economy is lagging because of policies pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama, including the health overhaul that Obama signed into law in 2010.

“The reality is, while we in Mississippi are doing better than most states, our GDP growth rate was 17th best amongst all 50 states last year, the problem is we are not immune from Obama’s national economy,” Reeves said. “As was said by our state economist today, because of things like the Affordable Care Act, because of other legislation that this previous Congress passed, it’s really making job creation very, very difficult for people in the private sector.”