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Our future depends on people staying

A surprising statistic was reported Friday:  more Mississippians were on employer payrolls in August than ever before.

The number of people on payrolls is a good indicator of the labor market’s health. No doubt, many in the state will brag on those numbers.

But it’s not all good news. The state’s economist told lawmakers earlier this week that while Mississippi’s economy is growing, it’s lagging behind the rest of the nation.

“Mississippi’s growth will not catch the national growth” in the near term, Darrin Webb said. “That is not likely to happen.”

Webb said the state has struggled to fully recover from the 2008 recession. He said “the state’s ‘real’ gross domestic product, the total of everything produced in the state, is lower now than it was in 2008 before the Great Recession,” The Daily Journal reported.

Webb pointed to the slow growth as a reason state tax collections have been lower than expected in recent years. State agencies have been forced to slash budgets due to state revenue problems.

Hundreds of millions in tax cuts have not helped. Webb has called those cuts “lost revenue due to legislative changes.”

So why has Mississippi struggled to keep pace with the rest of the country?

Part of the reason may be that the state’s best and brightest do not always stay home to contribute. Census estimates show that nearly 10,000 more American-born people left the state than moved here from July 2015 to July 2016, offset some by the roughly 2,000 people who moved to Mississippi from a foreign country, The Associated Press reported.

Between 2000 and 2015, Census figures show that Mississippi had the highest outmigration rates in the South for people younger than 40 with a college degree, according to a New York Times analysis.

While the high payroll number is a positive sign, state leaders shouldn’t ignore the obvious problems holding the state back. We have to find a way to keep  talented, smart Mississippians at home. The future of the state depends on it.