OUR OPINION: Outlook, facts demand a policy reassessment

By NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi’s unemployment rate for November, released last week, dropped to its lowest level since April 2008, which is marginally encouraging. But the percentage remains higher than the state and the nation: 7.9 percent, compared to 7.5 percent for the U.S. and 7.5 percent statewide.
The number of Mississippians unemployed, however, declined in November to 112,887, which is lower than October and the fewest in more than a year. In 2011, 142,000 Mississippians were unemployed in the corresponding month. The official forecasts from the state’s economists continued guarded, with very conservative projections extending through 2015 and beyond:
In November, this was forecast:
“The Mississippi forecast is for slow but improving economic growth, with some pick-up in employment next year, led by health care and a turn-around in construction. The slow growth of employment remains a concern: it is now not until 2018 that the state is expected to regain 2007 employment levels. Manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and other sectors will reach that milestone even later. The upswing here will gradually strengthen, peaking in 2015 at a real growth rate of output of 2.7 percent, with employment growth of 1.3 percent. The unemployment rate will gradually decline, falling from an average 9.4 percent this year to 7.9 percent in 2015.”
The state’s forecasters further issued cautions about business performance:
“The recent recession makes clear that the economic landscape in the state has changed. Data indicate that the skill and resource deficits here are limiting the ability of smaller firms to survive and thrive as market realities change,” said senior economist Marianne Hill.
Bankruptcies rose here 129 percent between 2000 and 2010, versus an increase of 60 percent nationwide. Mississippi firms did not perform as well as those in other states by several other measures over the same period: the number of small firms (fewer than 500 employees), the number of establishment openings and the number of persons self-employed all fell in the state, but rose nationally, the state reported.
“The underperformance of professional and business services in the state is also a concern: nationally, this sector has had the most rapid job growth of any sector since 2010, but in Mississippi employment in this sector has been falling. This drop is linked to the challenges facing businesses here,” the experts reported.
The forecasts, it should be noted, are not the gloom-and-doom generated by “outsiders” of varying stripes so often condemned by our state’s leadership. The facts are what we generate within our state’s economy, which political leaders constantly promise will be better if we follow this way or that way. Ideology is not a cure for economic malaise. Education and strong growth policy are the cornerstones of progress.
Further, the often-maligned federal funds – $27 billion in 2012 – help the state overall but are declining.
Now would be an opportune time to see what better ideas our state might use.