OUR OPINION: Outlook notes strengths in some Miss. numbers

By NEMS Daily Journal

Good news about the unemployment rate in Northeast Mississippi’s 16 counties during March was followed Thursday by a decidedly upbeat outlook in the usually cautious Mississippi Economic Outlook, published by the Universities’ Research Center in Jackson.
According to preliminary figures provided by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, the March unemployment rate was 8.9 percent for Northeast Mississippi, a full percentage point lower than the February rate, the Daily Journal reported Thursday.
The MEO analysis found that Mississippi’s “economy shows a spring in its step,” with the index of leading indicators and the index of coincident indicators having risen for six consecutive months. Nationwide, the report said the probability of recession is down to 20 percent, a confidence-building measurement.
Among the strong indicators cited were these:
• Personal income growth rose 3.8 percent in 2011, and so far, state income tax collections are 7 percent higher compared to a year ago.
• State General Fund tax revenues are up 5.6 percent compared to a year ago and 4.7 percent ahead of the official estimate.
• Growth in manufacturing employment is predicted to rise during the rest of 2012, in part because of recently opened new plants and because of major projects under construction. So far, $377 million in new investment has been announced during 2012, building on the $3.1 billion in new projects announced in 2011.
The forecast for the state generally is for slow but steady growth in 2012 and 2013. Momentum in the current forecast cycle is predicted to peak in 2014.
The Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi’s start of production was noted in the forecast, described as a “boost (in) economic activity in the state over the coming years.”
On a significant factual note, the forecast said Mississippians are the Americans hardest-hit by rising gasoline prices, spending on average 11 percent of gross income, an increase from 7 percent in 2010. The current high-price-per-gallon cycle will cause the percentage to stay at 11, on average. The calculations were provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The shift to spending more on gasoline means some other kinds of consumer spending will feel the pinch, but no specifics were offered.
The report also noted that reductions in federal spending will negatively impact Mississippi because 50 percent of the state’s budget in recent years has been based on federal funding. However, it’s hard to ignore $31.4 billion, the amount of federal funds flowing into the state in 2010.
The report offers reasons for optimism, tempered by caution.