As a young man, William Faulkner said he “discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about, and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”
The economic success happening in Mississippi and across the country gives all of us a lot to write about and celebrate. Recently I met with mayors, aldermen, and other officials from across our state who shared significant positive local developments, like the announcement by Kohler Engines that it is expanding its manufacturing operations in Hattiesburg. And new reports confirm that our overall economy continues to grow, wages are rising, and optimism is at all-time highs.
An Economic Comeback
Our economy exceeded expectations yet again in 2018 by growing at a rate of 3.1 percent. Unemployment dipped to 3.8 percent nationally and remained at its lowest level in Mississippi since it was first reported in the state by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1976. Hourly earnings for workers continued to rise, up 3.4 percent overall in a year and up even more for low-wage workers. This represents the highest level of wage growth since April 2009 and is the seventh month in a row above 3 percent. And, after the most extensive tax reform in decades, millions of Americans are keeping more of what they earn.
This growth is giving Americans renewed economic confidence. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that 91.8 percent of respondents to their industrywide survey hold positive outlooks about their future, up from just 68.6 percent in 2016. Other sectors of the economy are growing as well. Earnings in the retail and hospitality industries are up 5 percent and 4.1 percent respectively from last year.
More jobs and higher wages have the additional benefit of increasing tax receipts, even after the tax cuts went into effect. Federal revenues went up in February compared to the same time a year ago, defying the expectations of the law’s critics.
Meeting the Job Needs of the Future
It is vital to build on this growth as we continue into 2019. Although there is good news about our economy, more remains to be done to fill jobs. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, net small business job creation broke a 45-year record in February. However, of the many small business owners currently looking to hire, 49 percent find few or no qualified applicants for open positions. A lack of ready workers should not be the worry of job creators putting out help wanted signs and hoping to expand their businesses.
To address this shortfall, I support the expansion of educational and on-the-job training programs like apprenticeships. Initiatives such as the Mississippi Coding Academies and Base Camp Coding in Water Valley ensure we have a workforce available and prepared for new opportunities. I have worked closely with the President and senior administration officials on these efforts and appreciate their support.
Rural broadband and wireless networks will also help to level the playing field for those living in less populated areas and match job seekers with openings. As the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the expansion of rural broadband is among my top priorities.Washington can also help workers by getting out of the way. It would be a mistake to reverse this progress through economically disastrous proposals like the “Green New Deal,” which would jeopardize American jobs. At a time when conservative economic policies have proven to be so effective, now is not the moment to change course.