In a recent column, Charlie Mitchell claimed that Mississippi now “leads the nation in the ‘starve the beast’ approach to governance.” The ‘beast’ is not starving. In fact, it’s not even on a diet.
Growth of State Government
Let’s start with some basic numbers. In fiscal year 2016, the Mississippi Department of Revenue collected $2.3 billion more in taxes and fees than it collected just twelve years prior in 2004. That’s a 41% increase. In 2016, total state spending was $7.1 billion higher than it was in 2004. That’s a 64% increase. Between 2004 and 2016, the state’s debt, as reported by the Department of Finance & Administration’s CAFR, increased by 83%.
In that same time period, the Consumer Price Index was 29%. This means that tax collections, spending, and debt all dramatically outpaced inflation in Mississippi.
Plenty of Employment Data
Proponents of higher taxes and more spending have harped on how lean Mississippi government is. If public sector employment rates are any indication, the claim is false.
Federal and state agencies, like the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), the Bureau of Economic Activity (“BEA”) and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (“MDES”), all keep records of employment trends.
Included in these records is information about government employment. While methods of collecting and presenting the data vary slightly, they all present a clear picture of heavy reliance on government employment in Mississippi.
Mississippi’s Public Sector is Huge
Analyzing data from the BLS, a 2015 study found that 21.5% of Mississippi’s working population worked for the government–the fourth highest percentage in the country. Relying on the same data from the BLS, a USA Today article pointed out that 14% of Mississippi’s workers were employees of local governments, the second highest in the nation. The same article noted that 12.5% of Mississippi’s gross domestic product was came from government employment, the highest in the country. State-maintained data is consistent. MDES reports that 20.5% of Mississippi’s roughly 1.2 million non-farm payroll is government employment.
This doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Using data from multiple federal sources, the Mercatus Center conducted a 2013 study aimed at determining not only direct government employment, but also employment generated by federal government contracts. In total, Mercatus determined that public sector and federal contract jobs made up 28.2% of all jobs in Mississippi. Again, this represented the fourth highest percentage in the country.
2015 information from the U.S. Census Bureau provides further insight into government employment in Mississippi. For instance, according to Census data, Mississippi has the 7th most government health workers, the 9th most government public welfare workers, the 9th most government transportation workers, and the 10th most law enforcement workers as a percentage of the working population.
What Does it Mean?
Comparing government employment to total employment is the most common method of assessing a state’s reliance on government employment. Some are critical of this methodology. Their argument is largely premised on the idea that some states have reduced workforce participation rates that could skew results.
However, even when looking at government employment as a percentage of total population, Mississippi still ranks among the most reliant on public sector employment. Using U.S. Census data, governing.com indicates that Mississippi has the fourth most full-time equivalent state and local government employees per 10,000 residents in the country.
There certainly are arguments as to why Mississippi is so reliant on public sector employment. What can’t be argued with a straight face is that our government is small, or even shrinking.
Russ Latino is Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity Mississippi.