By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – Government is Mississippi’s largest employer these days, state economist Darrin Webb told lawmakers Tuesday.
That’s a big change from 20 years ago, when manufacturing held the top spot in the state. Mississippi lost manufacturing jobs in textiles and other industries after the North American Free Trade Agreement was put in place in the 1990s, Webb said.
He gave members of the House Appropriations Committee a chart that showed government employment in Mississippi has grown from about 200,000 jobs in 1990 to almost 250,000 in 2013. The government numbers include teachers and employees of local, state and federal agencies.
Mississippi manufacturing went from about 225,000 jobs in 1990 to about 140,000 in 2013. The number of retail jobs grew from about 120,000 in 1990 to about 140,000 in 2013.
“We need more private-sector growth in job creation,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.
State government employment has remained steady for the past decade, Frierson said, so most of the growth in government jobs has probably occurred on the local level.
Webb cited figures comparing the first three quarters of 2012 with the first three quarters of 2013. For those January-through-September periods, wages and salaries in the U.S. grew 1.9 percent. In Mississippi, they grew less than 1 percent, making the state eighth from last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“I’m a little bit troubled by the lack of income growth in Mississippi,” Webb said.
Employment in Mississippi grew 1.6 percent in 2013, and Webb said that’s the largest growth rate since 1999.
He said 53 counties gained jobs from 2012 to 2013, and 29 counties lost them. The biggest gains were in DeSoto County, which added 2,605 jobs, and Kemper County, which added 1,684.
Kemper, in the east central part of the state by the Alabama line, is not typically among the more robust counties, but Webb said construction of a Mississippi Power Co. plant spurred the growth. DeSoto, just south of Memphis, Tenn., has been Mississippi’s fastest-growing county for several years.