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Tate Reeves and Joe Biden agree that Mississippi’s economy is thriving. But are they right?

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic President Joe Biden, routinely political opposites, finally agree on something: the Mississippi economy is thriving.

On a recent July day when Reeves proclaimed that the state economy “is firing on all cylinders,” the Democratic president also bragged on the Mississippi economy.

Biden, to be more precise, primarily was making the point that the Mississippi economy is much stronger now than when he took office in January 2021.

On the same day that Biden and Reeves both were touting the Mississippi economy for their respective political purposes, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann also sent out a news release related to the state economy.

Hosemann announced the formation of a special committee to look into ways to improve the state’s dismal workforce participation rate. The percentage of working Mississippians age 16 and up is the lowest in the nation.

Hosemann pointed out that Mississippi labor force participation rate in April was 53.7% compared to the national average of 62.7%. Hosemann and others, including State Economist Corey Miller, have said the low labor force participation rate is a tremendous drag on the Mississippi economy and is one of the primary reasons the state trails the rest of the nation on many economic indicators.

If that is so, how can Reeves and Biden brag on the Mississippi economy?

Well, first of all, they are politicians. It might be surprising to know that many politicians on occasion misstate or misrepresent the facts.

In his news release, Reeves said, “Total non-farm employment reached a record high with 1,191,300 jobs.”

True, in May 2024, the state did have total non-farm employment of 1,191,300 jobs. But in May 2000, according to other U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the number of Mississippi jobs peaked at 1,243,022.

This gets confusing. There are two ways to count the number of people employed. Under one method, Mississippi has set recent records in number of employees. But under the other method of counting jobs, May 2000 still remains the high watermark for number of employees in the state.

Importantly, there were fewer Mississippians in 2000, meaning fewer eligible workers, than in 2024. Common sense would suggest that employment increases nearly every month as the population grows as it does in most cases, albeit slowly in Mississippi.

The bottom line is that Mississippi added 16,600 jobs from May 2022 to May 2023, or a 1.4% increase. That placed Mississippi among the bottom eight states in terms of jobs growth. And then from May 2023 through May 2024, Mississippi had jobs growth of 1.2% — again near the bottom in terms of adding jobs year over year.

It is true, as the governor boasted in his news release, that Mississippi currently is seeing record low unemployment of 2.8% and a record low number of people — 34,605 — were unemployed and looking for work.

But as the low labor force participation rate reveals, there are a lot of Mississippians who are unemployed no longer looking for jobs and thus are not counted in federal data cited by Reeves as being among the unemployed.

As a side note, it should be pointed out a sizable number of the people not working and not looking for jobs in Mississippi are disabled. If those disabled people had health insurance, perhaps they would have received preventative treatment that would have allowed them to continue to work and avoid becoming disabled.

By the way, Mississippi, which has among the nation’s highest percentage of people with no health insurance, also has one of the nation’s highest percentage of people who have been classified as disabled.

The states with high uninsured rates are for the most parts states like Mississippi that have not expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance for the working poor. Some of those same states also have dismal workforce participation rates.

Perhaps there is a correlation — and something for the politicians to ponder as they send out news releases.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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