SuperTalk Mississippi
Opinion Politics

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 should be the norm, and medical debt should not be bankrupting Mississippi families.

The State Legislature cannot create jobs, but it should create an environment that makes it more likely businesses will grow and thrive here. In the last term, we streamlined workforce development and economic development incentives; lowered our tax rate to one of the most competitive in the country; will pay off 20 percent of the state’s debt; and poured millions of dollars into our roads, bridges, water and sewer, and other infrastructure. We have to continue to invest taxpayer dollars in generational ways that reward innovation and help make our state as attractive as possible for new opportunities.

Finally, personal responsibility is a critical component in increasing our labor force participation rate. Ultimately, no matter what government does, the drive to go to work and earn a living must come from within. We have to set an example and instill these ethics in the next generation. This example is engrained in our youth by parents, teachers, coaches, faith-based organizations, and every Mississippian.

It has taken us years to reach our current labor force participation rate. We must not accept the decline. We have positioned our state to succeed and its citizens to prosper. We do not fear the challenge but enthusiastically accept the opportunity.

Mississippi’s future is bright. In the Lt. Governor’s Office, we will be laser-focused on long-term, systemic changes that will make a lasting and positive difference in Mississippi for our children and grandchildren.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.

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