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Hosemann: Raising labor force participation rate should be our No. 1 priority

Several years ago, in preparation to work for you as Lt. Governor, we visited with a Mississippi university economist to discuss the economic challenges and opportunities facing our State. Since then, our unemployment rate has dropped to 3.3 percent. Every person who wants a job can find one in Mississippi.

However, this conversation was the genesis of what must be our broader collective goal for the state: increasing our labor force participation rate, or the percentage of people age 16 and older who are actually in our labor force.

Why? Because when people are working, they are providing for their families, they are personally healthier, and they are more engaged in their communities. When people are working, our economy is thriving.

In November 2023, Mississippi’s labor force participation rate dipped to 53.8 percent, the lowest in the country and almost nine points below the national rate. There are some neutral explanations for the decline: a global pandemic, the Great Recession, and baby boomer retirement.

As we near the 50 percent mark, however, where almost half of our population is supporting the other half, we approach a dangerous precipice.

Study after study indicates a strong correlation between educational attainment and employment. Our dedication in the past term to retaining high-quality teachers, increasing access to pre-K, and placing career coaches in every school district was premeditated. One of the best investments we can make in Mississippi is in a child’s brain. We will continue to advocate for policies, like a last-dollar tuition program at our community colleges, which make it possible for every child to receive a world-class education.

Another critical issue: healthcare. Mississippi has one of the highest rates of disability, highest percentages of people without health insurance, and consistently ranks among the unhealthiest states in the nation. When people are healthy, they are more likely to have a job. We have made great strides in growing our healthcare workforce infrastructure, but we have more to do to ensure working people have access to affordable healthcare in our state. No person should be 30 minutes from an emergency room, preventative care

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