Let’s Get Mississippi to Work

By Treasurer David McRae

What do we do to improve Mississippi’s economy? As I travel across the state, this is one of the questions that keeps coming up – and it’s a fair one to ask. Given that Mississippi ranks 50th in employment and 46th in growth when compared to other states, the answer is fairly straightforward to me: We need to fight for every opportunity we can to get Mississippians back to work.

Despite the state’s challenges, I’m optimistic. I believe in our work ethic and people, which is why I was disappointed by recent federal policies that did more to keep hardworking Mississippians at home than employed.

More specifically, the Biden administration extended a COVID-era policy that paid unemployed Americans an extra $300 per week, meaning many recipients can earn more on unemployment than in a full-time, $15-an-hour job. The consequences have been significant.

The National Restaurant Association reported this April that full-service restaurants had 1.1 million job openings they were struggling to fill. Taco Bell had such a need to expand hiring they were interviewing candidates by the group in parking lots, and McDonald’s reported the labor shortage could mean some locations will not be able to fully reopen in 2021.

On the Mississippi Coast, restaurant owners are sharing similar stories. Kevin Fish, who runs Half Shell in Biloxi, explained to WLOX that “getting customers is no longer the issue. Now the problem is finding people who want to work.”

While the service industry was arguably the most directly affected by COVID, the labor-shortage impacts go well beyond a single trade. Today, job openings are at a 20-year high, making it all-the-more difficult for our supply chain to keep up with post-pandemic demands. Some companies are adjusting wages or benefits, but many are turning to automation to replace jobs with robots – that’s a scary reality for the American worker.

While some economists deemed the unemployment bonuses necessary during the pandemic’s height, few can argue our country is in the same place it was in 2020. Vaccines are widely available if workers want them, businesses have reopened, and consumers are hungry to reignite our economy. It’s time to get back to work.

Our policies must reflect this new reality, which is why I applaud Governor Tate Reeves’ recent decision to reject the federal government’s unemployment bonuses. By doing so, he made it easier for Mississippians to get back to work and gain financial independence from the government. These steps are necessary if we are to build back stronger.

President Reagan once said: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Sure, the $300 bonuses may have seemed like help on the surface, but in reality, they are holding us back, making recovery more difficult for both job creators and workers. With economic opportunity and our national supply chain at stake, I encourage more states to follow Mississippi’s lead: Let’s get America back to work.