By NEMS Daily Journal
Because of our high poverty and low educational attainment rates, Mississippi faces greater economic challenges than most states.
We still have the lowest per capita income and lowest per capita economic output of any state, as well as the highest poverty rate.
So when signs of progress are evident, they ought to be celebrated.
Here’s some encouraging news: Our state’s economy grew 2.4 percent in 2012. Not great, but much better than 2011 and nearly even with the nation’s 2.5 percent.
Even more significant, Mississippi was 17th among the 50 states in rate of growth last year. In 2011, by contrast, the state’s economy shrank 1.1 percent, making it one of only five states to be in recession that year.
Since we begin by comparing ourselves with neighboring states, it’s noteworthy also that Mississippi’s growth in 2012 outpaced Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana – all our adjoining neighbors except Tennessee, which grew 3.3 percent.
“We began to see some pretty significant growth for the first time since the recession,” said Darrin Webb, Mississippi’s state economist.
In Northeast Mississippi, as reported at the recent State of the Region meeting, the decline of manufacturing jobs in the region – half were lost between 1995-2010 – has begun to abate. Toyota and its suppliers are partly responsible, but there are other positive developments as well.
It’s clear that the jobs that will make Mississippi a full-fledged participant in a sustained national economic recovery and economically competitive over the long term are those that require higher-level skills. That’s a mantra that can’t be repeated often enough.
It also points to the foundation of whatever economic strength Mississippi will have in the future: our educational system and the educational levels of our people.
Progress on the latter is evident. But as Northeast Mississippi and the rest of the state raise the percentage of the adult population with a high school diploma and some college, so does the nation, and we still trail.
As for the education system itself, new rigor, a higher degree of accountability and the coming Common Core curriculum hold out hope that signs of progress will be sustained.
The chief reason Mississippi still lags economically, in spite of progress, is its legacy of undervaluing education until the last few decades. The only way to catch up is to value it as much – or more – than anybody else.