State’s top employer needs new direction

Published 12:06am Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mississippi’s state economist gave lawmakers bad — but not surprising — economic news Tuesday.

The state’s largest employer, economist Darrin Webb said, is state government. That’s never a good situation, but it’s particularly bad in light of how much manufacturing — once Mississippi’s economic forte — has fallen in the past two decades.

Manufacturing jobs in the state dropped from approximately 225,000 in 1990 to approximately 140,000 in 2013. Across the same periods of time, government jobs grew by 25 percent from 200,000 to 250,000.

Has the need for more state workers actually expanded that much?

The state’s population has only increased by approximately 16 percent during the same period of time. Clearly state government is outpacing our population.

Critics of government entitlement programs may argue it’s been that way for years and year, but all jokes aside, the fundamental shift has occurred over the last two decades with thousands of manufacturing jobs taken to cheaper locales around the globe.

The culprit is the North American Free Trade Agreement that went into place in the 1990s.

But rather than crying over something that likely cannot easily be put back into the bottle, Mississippi should quickly work on retooling itself for the new economy.

Why isn’t the state pumping much more money into things that will matter to the state in the next 20 years — education, technology and economic development?

If we don’t change the path on which we’re headed economically, we’ll all be receiving checks from the state at some point in the future. The problem is going to be: How will those checks be funded if private business isn’t flourishing?