By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippi has a low work force participation rate, at least in part because it has more disabled people, state Economist Darrin Webb told legislators Thursday morning.
The state’s work force participation rate is 56 percent. West Virginia is the only state with a lower work force participation rate.
“A lot of that statistic has to do with the disabled,” Webb said during the economic briefing that legislators normally receive at some point during the session.
Webb said about 10 percent of Mississippi’s working-age population is disabled, compared to the national average of 6 percent.
“That is about 70,000 people,” he said during the hearing in the state Capitol.
People who have been categorized as disabled often receive some type of government assistance.
Webb presented figures detailing that in the 25-year-old to 44-year-old categories the workforce participation rate of Mississippians is not much lower than the national average. But in the 45-year-old to 64-year-old categories, Mississippi’s work force participation rate is 10 percent lower than the nation’s.
Those numbers help highlight the issue facing the state economically, including the fact that 26.2 percent of Mississippi’s income comes from governmental transfer payments, such as Social Security checks, and 14.4 percent comes from governmental jobs. West Virginia and New Mexico are the only states “more dependent on the government,” according to Webb’s report.
“These sources tend to grow slow and in the case of earnings have decreased in recent years,” according to Webb’s report.
As a matter of fact, government is the largest employer in the state. And Mississippi is one of eight states where employment in December 2016 is below the employment in December 2007 before the Great Recession hit.
The overall outlook, Webb told legislators, has not changed much in recent years – the Mississippi economy is growing at a slower rate than that of the nation and of the Southeast.
But there are some positive signs for the state, he said. The best sign is that for the first time since the Great Recession, the state will experience economic growth for two consecutive years, 2015-16, and is expected to do so for the coming two years.
Still, he said the state’s population is growing much slower than that of the nation and region.
“People tend to go where the economic opportunities are,” he said.
And, despite the modest growth during the past two years, state revenue collections – particularly sales tax collections, considered a sign of economic strength – continue to be sluggish.
House Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said during the meeting that multiple states – 14 – are not meeting revenue projections.
“We are by far not the only state suffering revenue problems,” he said. “…This is a nationwide problem.”
The revenue problems in the state are of particular concern for legislators as they are in the midst of work on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1.
That is one reason they were listening intently to Webb’s report Thursday.