Job creation, funds for education must become priorities

Published 7:57pm Saturday, July 19, 2014

Friday’s report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t look good for Mississippi. The stats show the state’s June unemployment rate of 7.9 percent puts it dead last in the nation when it comes to the number of people with jobs.

Mississippi’s June jobless rate also reflected an increase from May’s 7.7 percent. Meanwhile, the national jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent last month, which was a further decrease from May’s 6.3 percent.

While the economy appears to be improving nationwide, the upswing hasn’t filtered down enough to Mississippi. Still, the May and June 2014 numbers in the state do show an improvement from the 8.7 percent rate reported in 2013. But the state continues to lag far behind the nation as a whole.

As Gov. Phil Bryant said in an Associated Press story, “It’s not going as fast as I want it to….” But he then pointed to the improvement since he’s been in office. In January 2012, when Bryant was sworn in, the rate was 9.4 percent in the state.

A quick look at the local area shows Lincoln County’s unemployment rate at 7.4 percent, Copiah’s at 7.8 percent, Lawrence’s at 8.4 percent and Franklin’s at 9 percent in May 2014, the most recent county-by-county numbers available on the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s website.

The state and area numbers tell us there’s definitely much room for improvement when it comes to job growth in Mississippi and here at home. The AP story cited an economic forecasting company’s projection that the state will not fully recover from the recession until 2016 or 2017, which makes Mississippi one of the slowest states to bounce back.

In Friday’s AP story, Bryant pointed to insufficient education and training as a lot of the problem with the larger percentages of unemployed people in Mississippi. “We haven’t done as good a job as we should in training workers for the future,” he noted.

Yes, education needs to improve, but the state’s efforts toward bringing in new companies with jobs for our people also could stand to step up a notch, too. Still, the fact remains that industries want to locate in places where they will have well educated people ready to go to work. To provide that educated work force, the state must be willing to channel more funds into our schools and colleges.

Yet, as a guest columnist on our Opinion Page today notes, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) has only been fully funded twice by the state in 17 years.

Doing something about improving education in this state is going to take funds, and getting our state officials to take that seriously is going to require a concerted push by the citizens of this state who must decide whether they want something better for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.

You can start by talking to your local state legislators. If you don’t know how to contact them, here’s a link to the Legislature’s website:

Click on the “Legislators” link near the top left corner of the page, and then select either “Representatives” or “Senators” to see a list of names. Click on the name of one of your legislators and his or her profile will come up, including phone number, mailing address and email address.

If we want Mississippi to stop being No. 50, we need to get to work bringing in more jobs and educating our people so they can do them.