State Capitol in Jackson Friday, August 24, 2018.

States that consume the most sushi per capita have a higher work force participation rate than Mississippi.

But wait, states where more venison is eaten also have a higher percentage of eligible works employed than in Mississippi.

No actual research has been done on those statistics, but rest assured they are correct. After all, every state, except for perhaps West Virginia, has a higher work force participation rate than the Magnolia State.

There have been efforts in recent days to buoy support for Gov. Tate Reeves’ proposal to phase out Mississippi’s income tax by pointing out that the nine states with no tax on earned income have higher — much higher in some instances — work force participation rates than Mississippi. It’s an interesting point, but states with the highest tax on income also have higher work force participation rates than Mississippi. The point is: Mississippi’s work force participation rate is lower than every state except that of West Virginia.

Still, the argument made that eliminating the income tax would help improve Mississippi’s work force participation rate is an interesting one since Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has made improving the state’s work force participation one of his primary goals. Hosemann, as do most economists, cite improving the rate as a way to improve the economy of a state.

In order to steer a proposal to phase out the income tax through the 2021 Mississippi legislative session, which begins Jan. 5, Reeves probably needs buy-in on the plan from Hosemann, who presides over the Senate.

House Speaker Philip Gunn has previously voiced support for eliminating the income tax and appears to be solidly behind Reeves’ proposal to do so during the 2021 session. When asked about the proposal, Hosemann simply said “everything is on the table.” Perhaps the thought is that if the income tax phase-out is linked to increasing Mississippi’s work force participation rate, Hosemann might be more likely to jump on board.

In fairness, the work force participation rates of many of the nine states that do not tax earned income are above the national average. Based on information provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national work force participation rate for November was 61.4%. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was above 63%. Mississippi’s was at 55.8%, seasonally adjusted for November. Of the nine states with no tax on earned income, six were above the national average. The states with the highest work force participation rate of that group were South Dakota at 67.9% followed by New Hampshire at 66.3%.

But, of course, most of the states with work force rates higher than the national average have a personal income tax, most with much higher rates than Mississippi’s relatively low rate. They include Maryland with a 65.8% work force participation rate and Minnesota at 67.9%.

Incidentally, Kansas had a 68.3% rate in November. In the early 2010s, Kansas famously enacted deep income tax cuts but repealed them in 2018 as state revenue plummeted.

When announcing his plan, Reeves said Mississippi needed the boost that the income tax cut would create.

“We as a state need to think big,” Reeves said in November. “We need to think about not only what can we do to make strategic investments, but what can we do to make a splash.

“What can we do to say to the world not only do we want to invest capital here, (but) we want you to move here? Mississippi needs to see population growth in the coming years. We need more people moving into the state to grow our economy.”

He said phasing out the income tax by 2030 would spur that growth.

Reeves said the states with no tax on personal income are experiencing faster population growth. Many are. The top 10 fastest growing states between 2010 and 2019 include four with no income tax. All nine were growing much faster than Mississippi, which was in the bottom 10 in terms of population growth.

In most categories, measuring a state’s economic vitality — gross domestic product, per capital income, education attainment and so on — most states with or without a personal income tax are ahead of Mississippi.

Former Gov. William Winter, who died earlier this month, used to famously say, “The only road out of poverty runs past the schoolhouse door.”

No doubt, those states that have had strong school systems for a prolonged period and have high educational attainment levels also are outperforming Mississippi economically.

Some of those states do not have a personal income tax, but most do.

Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.