BILL CRAWFORD: ‘Painfully Slow’ job growth may be a blessing

By Bill Crawford

Mississippi’s unemployment rate topped 11 percent in June and July.
The University Research Center says Mississippi faces “painfully slow growth with a rising threat of recession.”
Hmmm.
Trends over the past 20 years show major shifts occurring in Mississippi employment. Goods producing jobs in manufacturing and agriculture continued to dwindle. Services, wholesale and retail, and government jobs grew.
In 1991, goods producing jobs comprised nearly 40 percent of total jobs. By 2010 that ratio was halved to about 19 percent. Government jobs held steady at about one-fifth of total jobs. Service and wholesale/retail trade jobs filled gap. Much of the services jump came from growing employment in health care.
Here’s how the average annual job numbers changed over 20 years. Manufacturing jobs dropped from 246,900 to 135,800, down 45 percent. Service jobs jumped from 165,800 to 271,300, up 64 percent. Wholesale and retail trade job climbed from 196,800 to 284,600, up 45 percent. Government jobs increased from 203,900 to 248,900, up 22 percent. Jobs also increased in construction, mining, and finance; transportation was flat.
Within this context of shifting jobs, what sectors will provide “painfully slow growth?”
Not government. Federal budget cuts and tight state and local budgets project decreases in government jobs over the next several years.
That means the private sector will have to generate Mississippi job growth. But, what sectors?
Still unknown is how much federal spending cuts will impact transfer payments to Mississippi. Big, immediate cuts will likely hurt retail, wholesale, and services purchases and slow, if not reverse, growth in those sectors. Defense cuts could reverse job growth in that emerging cluster. Medicare/Medicaid cuts may slow health care job growth.
What locations would enjoy any “painfully slow growth?”
In 2010, 13 counties possessed 53 percent of all jobs: Hinds (106,950), Harrison (80,090), DeSoto (71,890), Rankin (70,070), Jackson (58,080), Madison (43,530), Lee (34,400), Forrest (34,360), Lauderdale (29,730), Jones (27,550), Lamar (22,550), Lowndes (22,520), and Lafayette (20,270).
But from 2001 to 2010, jobs increased in only seven of these counties: DeSoto (21 percent), Lamar (15 percent), Madison (12 percent), Rankin (11 percent), Lafayette (9 percent), Forrest (2 percent), and Jackson (1 percent). Indeed, only six other counties increased employment over the decade: George (17 percent), Sunflower (13 percent), Scott (8 percent), Covington (2 percent), Tallahatchie (2 percent), Greene (1 percent),
In contrast, 38 counties suffered double digit decreases. Big percentage hits came in Clay (-34 percent), Webster (-25 percent), Noxubee (-24 percent), Issaquena (-21 percent), Tippah (-19 percent), Washington (-18 percent), Attala (-18 percent), Choctaw (-17 percent), Quitman (-17 percent), Coahoma (-16 percent), Tishomingo (-16 percent), Prentiss (-16 percent) and Kemper (-16 percent).
So, painfully slow job growth may bless a handful of counties. But, others are likely to enjoy only more economic pain.
Yuk. And, that’s without another hit from the Great Recession.
Our incoming state political leaders will be challenged to spur job growth … and to spread it around.

Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.