Mississippi economy is growing, but job numbers still lag 44,000 behind pre-recession level



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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's economy is gradually growing stronger, but the state still has 44,000 fewer jobs now than it did before the recession, state economist Darrin Webb told legislative budget writers Friday.

Employment numbers in the state have been up in some months and down in others.

"What you see is sort of sputtering growth in employment," Webb said. "It shows that we are really struggling to gain momentum, but we are growing."

The strongest contributor to job growth in Mississippi this year is the manufacturing sector, particularly for making vehicles, ships and furniture. In 2013, the biggest growth came in temporary jobs.

Experts think Mississippi will end the year with 1.4 percent growth in its gross domestic product, which would be slightly lower than the 1.6 percent growth in 2013, Webb said.

In Mississippi and other parts of the nation, many young people are slow to marry and form new households, partly because they're leaving college with a significant amount of debt, he said. That, in turn, is affecting the demand for housing.

Mississippi has long been one of the poorest states in the nation, and the Delta, which relies largely on agriculture, has been the poorest part of the state for generations. Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, asked Webb for ideas about improving the Delta's economic standing.

"I get asked the question all the time: 'What's the magic bullet?'" Webb said. "There's no magic bullet."

Mississippi's economy suffers because of relatively low levels of health and education and high levels of births outside marriage, Webb said.

"Until we improve on these measures, we will continue to face the same problems year after year," he said.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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