By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – State Economist Darrin Webb told legislative leaders Thursday that Mississippi “came late to the party” in terms of jobs creation, but has finally arrived.
“We made remarkable progress during the past 12 months,” Webb said at the conclusion of four days of hearings where the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee met with agency heads as it works to develop a budget proposal for the 2014 legislative session.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the state had 1.124 million Mississippians employed in July 2013, up about 25,000 from the same period in 2012, but still below the 1.16 million workers in February 2008 before the recession hit later that year.
Webb told legislative leaders that after trailing the nation in economic recovery for much of the past two years, the state is now recovering at a little faster rate than the nation. He said he expects the recovery for both the state and nation to remain slow until 2015 when he said the recovery should pick up – faster for the nation than the state.
In 2009, Webb said the state experienced a 4.5 percent decline in jobs, and suffered another, though smaller, decline in 2010. Finally in 2012, the state had a 1 percent increase in employment and for the first seven months of 2013, employment is up 1.7 percent.
Legislative leaders especially were interested in Webb’s comments because later this year they will meet with Gov. Phil Bryant to project how much the state will collect in taxes during the next fiscal year, and thus how much money will be available to fund the budget. An improving economy means more revenue for the state.
“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.”
In a prepared statement, Bryant said Webb’s report “brings to the forefront our aggressive growth strategy to retain our existing industry base and recruit new global business investment. So far in 2013, we have announced the creation of 4,827 new jobs. This is a testament to Mississippi’s workforce and to our efforts in fostering a strong business climate.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the reports of the improving economy provide evidence that polices being put in place by the Republican leadership are working. Republicans have controlled the Governor’s Mansion and the Senate for multiple terms but gained control of the state House in 2011 for the first time since the 1800s.
When asked why Mississippi is slower in returning to pre-recession levels in employment than some other states and still had an unemployment rate higher than the national average, Gunn said it is the fault of policies in Washington. He pointed out that Webb, while not commenting on the merits of the legislation, had said that uncertainty about the federal Affordable Care Act and new regulations on financial institutions were factors in slow economic growth.
Another report on Thursday provided a less favorable perspective on Mississippi’s economic status. The Mississippi Economic Policy Center noted that according to U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in Mississippi was up in 2012 over the previous year.