Mississippi’s ‘ragged recovery’ likely to linger

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s economy isn’t expected to improve much until 2014, according to the latest outlook provided by University Research Center at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
That conclusion, announced late Thursday, also said a “ragged recovery” is slowing employment growth.
Authored by senior economist Marianne Hill, the report noted the state’s employment this summer hit its lowest level since 1996.
“There was some improvement in September, but still the unemployment rate remains above 9.7 percent in most counties and no increase in payroll employment is expected for 2012 as a whole,” the report said.
In Northeast Mississippi, the average unemployment rate was 10 percent. As a whole, the 16-county region’s jobless rate for the month was 9.4 percent.
From 2009 until 2012, the region endured double-digit unemployment rates for 35 of the 36 months.
Yet this year, with sporadic economic growth, the region through September has averaged 9.6 percent.
The reason for the improvement in Northeast Mississippi is several companies have expanded, including several furniture manufacturers, which employ the bulk of the manufacturing jobs in the region. Toyota opened in October 2011 and now employs 2,000 workers. Suppliers employ nearly that many.
IHL’s report noted investments across the state totaling $1.4 billion have been announced since the start of the year. It also said other key indicators are improving.
“Residential building permits and housing starts are up sharply; retail sales continue to increase modestly,” it said.
In another plus, general fund collections are coming in above estimates.
“The Mississippi forecast is for slow but improving economic growth, with some pick-up in employment next year, led by health care and a turnaround in construction,” the report continued.
But Hill also said the state is not expected to regain its 2007 employment levels until 2018. Manufacturing, leisure and hospitality and other sectors won’t reach ’07 levels until later than that.
Statewide unemployment will fall slowly, from an average 9.4 percent this year, to an anticipated 7.9 percent in 2015.
Northeast Mississippi’s employment rate in 2007 averaged 7.2 percent.
The report said the state’s gross domestic product – the value of goods and services produced – is estimated to be up 0.4 percent this year, improving to 1.6 percent next year.
“The economic upturn is on more solid ground by 2014 and in 2015, the state GDP will post a healthy growth rate of 2.7 percent,” the report said.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com