Good times coming slow

A recent measurement of Mississippi’s economy is generally positive, but it also shows how statistics can be misleading or even wrong.

The website RichStatesPoorStates.org this week ranked each state based on “a forward looking forecast based on the state’s standing in 15 important state policy variables.”

The site says Mississippi’s future economic outlook ranks 24th — which is OK. It is certainly better than our usual location at the bottom of any economic list.

Low personal income and corporate income tax rates helped the state’s ranking, as did its debt payments as a share of tax revenue. But Mississippi loses ground because of its high sales tax rate and because it has a relatively high number of public employees per 10,000 residents.

The site has ranked state economies for more than a decade, and a look at the past 10 years is where questions start to bubble up.

It turns out that Mississippi has slipped in the future economic outlook standings for the past two years. It ranked in the top 20 from 2008 to 2015, peaking at No. 10 in 2013. These figures would imply that the state weathered the 2008 recession fairly well, when anyone who has been here for the past decade knows that’s inaccurate.

The state’s unemployment rate is lower than it’s ever been, but that success is muted by the fact that there are no more jobs now in Mississippi than there were a decade ago. Unemployment is down only because people have left the work force — which is not a sign of improvement.

Mississippi’s 24th spot also must be questioned in any economic survey that puts mighty Texas only at No. 14 and California at No. 47. California has many problems, including excessively high taxes, but the state has an enviable track record of overcoming its deficiencies and growing its economy.

Another part of the survey, the economic performance ranking, seems to be more accurate. This one ranks states on actual performance over the past decade in gross domestic product, population and employment.

Here, Texas gets the No. 1 spot, while tax-happy California is 20th because more than 920,000 people have left the state.

This ranking puts Mississippi in more familiar territory: 44th place. The state’s GDP is up 25 percent in the past decade, ranking 37th. Employment growth is minus 0.39 percent, meaning a net loss of jobs. And most worrisome, 60,000 people left the state from 2007 to 2016.

This is the trick of the statistics. The future outlook has been saying for a decade that Mississippi’s economy is in the top half of states, which implies that things ought to be getting better. But that prediction simply has been wrong. The state’s actual performance during the past decade shows we have fewer jobs and people have been leaving.

It’s getting tiresome to repeat this, but one day Mississippi’s economy will rebound and help the state catch up with the rest of the country. It just hasn’t happened yet.

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