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“In the past, Mississippi has had people looking for jobs. Today, we have more than 40,000 jobs looking for people,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in his State of the State address in 2018.
The governor was referring to the roughly 40,000 job openings within Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s online jobs bank, a version of which exists in all fifty states.
In 2019, that number surpassed 55,000 and now hovers around 50,000, according to the counter on the Mississippi Works phone app (the number was recently removed from the flagship MississippiWorks.org desktop website).
We culled and analyzed 38,866 job openings that appeared on the website on July 1, 2019 and 35,949 on January 23, 2020. Depending on which measurement you look at — the actual advertised pay for the job or the state average full-time wage for that position — the openings pay approximately between $21,000 and $29,000.
In all but five counties in July, there were more job seekers, according to federal unemployment data, than job openings we could access on the website (with the exception of about 500 jobs that did not contain enough geographical information to determine their county location).
In Jefferson County, there were 18 unemployed people for every opening in July. To test this, Mississippi Today manually searched jobs in Jefferson County in February and found there were 18 openings in the county compared to 307 unemployed people living there in November, the most recent month for which there is U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data available — the equivalent of 17 unemployed people per opening.
The jobs bank, created in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, came online in the mid-2000s and the current system, called WINGS, launched in 2009, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Over time, the state added more sophisticated features, such as allowing users to input their own personal information and resumes to match with jobs based on their qualifications. The state ramped up publicity of the website, renamed “Mississippi Works” under Bryant, when it launched a mobile app version of the website in 2014.
Despite serving as one the most public-facing aspects of Mississippi’s workforce development efforts, no state agency, including the university research center that manages the tool, National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center (NSPARC), could tell us how many people have secured jobs by using the website or app since 2014.
On initial review of the website, we found a basic search engine — similar to other private sites like Monster or Indeed — in which a user may search for jobs by title, keyword, occupation or tool. Users may narrow their search to jobs within 10 miles or up to 250 miles from a specific zip code or search jobs statewide and nationwide.
Here’s what the website contains:
Inside each job listing, users can find some job details and application instructions, many of which direct users to a physical WIN Job Center to apply in person. If a user is signed into a profile containing their qualifications, they can see how well they match with the job’s requirements.
The state programmed the website to include occupational data from the BLS to give users additional general information about each listed position. For example, a fish processing job at America’s Catch catfish plant in Itta Bena was categorized as “Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers.” In 2018, that position paid an average of $26,010, according to the federal labor bureau. That number can differ greatly from the wage the specific local job actually pays. America’s Catch, for example, pays between $7.75 and $8 an hour, or roughly $16,380 a year. Less than half of openings contained the actual advertised pay for the job.
The website also shows the projected change in need for that position. “By 2024, Mississippi will need 1% fewer ‘Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers,’” the listing said in July.
In both July and January, the site stored around 15,500 job listings, a number that fluctuates daily. Each listing, or advertised position, may have more than one opening. The openings totaled 38,866 on July 1, 2019 and 35,949 on January 23, 2020, according to a website scrape conducted by web programmer Vince Falconi. Falconi created a bot that automatically opened and copied the information from all listings on the public website into an Excel spreadsheet that we could then analyze. Mississippi Today had the code used to conduct the scrape independently verified.
Mississippi Today scraped the listings from the website, which may not capture all of them because the Mississippi Department of Employment Security does not create its own detailed reports of the openings. The agency began creating snapshots of the openings in July after Mississippi Today requested the information, but they only contain federal labor bureau position titles. Those records showed there were 49,419 openings during a snapshot in August and 50,579, 55,531, and 56,476 openings during three snapshots in October. Each snapshot showed the openings came with an average salary of about $25,500.
Here’s what we found in July 2019:
- Of 38,866 total openings, 63 openings were removed from the site in the course of the scrape, which took about 24 hours.
- 6,728 or 17 percent were located outside of Mississippi.
- 16,568 or 43 percent contained enough pay information to convert into an annual salary (methodology below); most listed the pay as $0.
- The openings that listed true pay ranges from employers came with a median annual salary of $21,209. One opening that appeared at the middle of the salaries was for a farm worker in Batchelor, LA (#305131); the listing advertised 205 openings.
- In July, the site had not been updated and still contained Bureau of Labor Statistics information from 2014. 37,994 openings contained enough information that allowed us to match each position with a 2018 occupational code and updated salary. The 2018 median salary of the openings was $25,520. One opening that appeared at the middle of the salaries was for a meat cutter at a fish processing plant in Itta Bena (#286866); the listing advertised 468 openings.
- 16,464 openings contained both employer-listed pay and BLS salary data, and the true listing pay was on average $2,400 less than the BLS wage of current employees.
- 31,621 in-state openings listed complete addresses of each job’s location that we were able to convert to counties (methodology below). In all but five counties — Union, Leflore, Pontotoc, Scott and Calhoun — there are more unemployed people looking for jobs than openings on the Mississippi Works website. In those 77 counties, the labor surplus ranges from just 6 percent more unemployed people than jobs in Chickasaw County to 1,729 percent — 18 job seekers per opening — in Jefferson County.
- On average, the jobs had a projected need increase of 4 percent from 2014 to 2024. The openings ranged from the fastest growing jobs — occupational therapy assistant (+43 percent), home health aid (+40 percent), physical therapy assistant (+39 percent) — and the most quickly diminishing jobs — traffic light repairer (-42 percent), switchboard operator (-27 percent) and mail carrier (-26 percent).
Here’s what we found in January 2020:
- Of 35,949 total openings, 21 openings were removed from the site in the course of the scrape, which took about 24 hours.
- 1,208 or 3 percent were located outside of Mississippi.
- 12,235 or 34 percent contained enough pay information to convert into an annual salary (methodology below); most listed the pay as $0.
- The openings that listed true pay ranges from employers came with a median annual salary of $23,566. One opening that appeared at the middle of the salaries was for a farmworker in Itta Bena (#326552); the listing advertised 70 openings.
- 35,242 openings contained 2018 BLS occupational codes and average salaries. The median salary of the openings was $28,642. One opening that appeared at the middle of the salaries was for a production worker at a Georgia-Pacific plant in Monticello, MS (#323670).
- 12,235 openings contained both employer-listed pay and BLS salary data, and the true listing pay was on average $5,200 less than the BLS wage of current employees.
- On average, the jobs had a projected need increase of 3 percent from 2016 to 2026. The openings ranged from the fastest growing jobs — food preparers and servers (+420 percent), personal care aides (+253 percent), home health aides (+39 percent) — and the most quickly diminishing jobs — teller (-49 percent), fast food cooks (-27 percent) and retail salespeople (-11 percent).
To calculate averages, we used median values instead of mean values to account for outliers — very high- or low-paying jobs, for example. The median salary means half of the job openings pay less and half pay more than that salary.
Employer-listed salary methodology:
Only 43 percent of openings in July and 34 percent of openings in January had enough pay information to analyze the average wage for the openings. Employers list the pay range in different ways: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, annually or, for trucking positions, by the mile. We first converted all the listed pay into annual wages — those ranged from $1,560 for a $7.50-an-hour driving gig that only offered four hours a week to $225,000 for a pediatrician position at the Delta Health Center. For the annual salary conversions, we multiplied hourly wages by the number of hours per week offered by the position multiplied by 52; weekly wages by 52 and monthly wages by 12. For the few jobs listing a daily pay rate, we multiplied the rate by 261 — the average number of working days in a year.
To calculate the annual salary for trucking positions that pay by the mile, we assumed a weekly mileage of 2,500.
Using the addresses listed on the in-state job openings in July, we manually matched the Zip code with counties in the state. Then we compared the number of openings in each county to the average number of unemployed people in each county using 2018 BLS data.
Sources of job listings:
The state department of employment security retrieves the job listings from three sources: employers who provide openings directly to the department, the National Labor Exchange (NLx), a public-private partnership that collects job openings from more than 25,000 websites, and the Mississippi State Personnel Board, where the state stores its own openings. Most listings link users to the individual employer’s careers website; others require in-person applications.
On July 1, 71 percent of the jobs on the website came from employment security’s own jobs bank, 28 percent from the national labor exchange and less than one percent from the state personnel board. On January 23, 68 percent came from employment security, 32 percent from the national labor exchange and less than one percent from the personnel board.
Reporters Alex Rozier and Erica Hensley contributed to this report.