As the nation face tough economy, conditions vary in Mississippi - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

As the nation faces tough economy, conditions vary in Mississippi

Fears about the national economy have many United States citizens on edge, but are those fears justified in light of local conditions?

Jobs

Mississippi residents struggle for jobs It is no secret that the nation is struggling for enough jobs for our citizens; this does not exclude Mississippi.

Mississippi's unemployment rate is at an impressive 8.7 percent, leaving over 116,000 Mississippians without work.

Economists say that small businesses are the cure for the job market decrease. Yet, small businesses in the Hattiesburg area say that their customer base has declined as well.

Main Street Books opened in 2002, and has seen a steady decline over the years. "We have a good customer base that supports us, but even that has gotten smaller over the years," Main Street Books employee Dianne Shephard said.

"The book business is changing because a person can buy the same book we price at retail for a penny on the internet," Shephard said. Shephard has come up with new ideas such as a website, and carrying e-books to keep her business steady. "We are holding on, and hoping our new changes will make us visible to the public again," Shephard said.

While older businesses continue to stay afloat, other businesses are warily just beginning in this economy.

Owner of Broom Pest Control Brad Broom opened his business just this year. "I started this business now because in this economy, jobs are not always promised and companies and independent business owners are only looking out for themselves," Broom said.

"I am, like everyone else, worried about starting my business in this economy. I always keep in mind to not try and think I'm a bigger business than what I really am." Broom hopes that a good customer base and word of mouth advertising will help promote his business, and keep him strong through this economic struggle.

Not only does business struggle, but employees find themselves stuck in jobs that are below their skills just to make ends meet. Ole Miss Student Kelsey Adrian works at a call center for the state just to pay the bills.

"I probably applied for three or four jobs a day till I was hired at the call center," Adrian said. "It's easy to settle on demanding, unpaid jobs when you don't have any other choice." Adrian is a student, and has accumulated debt over the years on top of rent. "I'm two days late on rent. I have a lot of debt but, I do okay. I don't go without but, I am not able to save," Adrian said.

Newlywed Kristina Jenkins also finds herself in tight position money wise.

"I do feel like I won't ever be able to find anything better than my job now, and I did settle just to make ends meet, but I do make minimum wage," Jenkins said.

"I feel so much pressure to find a better job to help my husband with bills, but I don't have a degree yet," Jenkins said. "I plan to at least get my Associates, but that still limits me."

Finding jobs may be trying, but not impossible. For more information on job searches, or employment opportunities, contact the WIN job center at 601-584-1202, or the University of Southern Mississippi Career Services at 601.266.4153.

Housing

After the housing market proved to be poor for over the past few years, Mississippi housing has finally shown improvement.

Inventory has declined, so this inevitably means Hattiesburg realty has improved. "It's a very delicate balance between low inventory and high demands for houses," said President of Hattiesburg Area Association of Realtors Carol Downing.

There were 131 houses sold in May. That was a 28 to 29 house increase than last year. The prices of the houses sold were also good and stable.

"Economy is slightly improving, but Hattiesburg is not as affected by this because of our area being diverse in business for our size," Downing said. "In the past, no one bought out of fear, and now that fear is gone so people are buying."

Areas such as Oak Grove and Petal are expanding. Therefore, more houses are being sold in those areas for good prices.

Soon-to-be homeowner Samantha Craft proves to be one of the buyers no longer overwhelmed by fear.

"I am in no way concerned to buy right now," Craft said. "It's a buyer's market still, and we're planning on buying low, fixing up, and selling out."

Craft is recently a newlywed, and has high concerns with starting a family without owning a house first. "I'd be afraid to buy a mansion, but people still need houses and will always need them," Craft said.

Although the market has improved, and people are buying, many home owners are still struggling to sell their places. Homeowner Amy Pew has had a house on the market for a year and a half, and still hasn't found a buyer.

"I have had trouble trying to sell my double-wide home mainly because people probably don't want to move the home," Pew said.

"Our family has outgrown the house and we are looking to build on the land our house is on now." Pew, although a little discouraged, is still staying hopeful to sell the house within the year. "Advertising is too expensive, so I used Craiglist.com and word of mouth," Pew said. "If it doesn't sell in the next year we might buy a small piece of land and build on that, but hopefully it won't come to that."

The housing market poses to be a very sensitive balance between low rates and the regular supply and demand. However, improvements are happening, and should continue to grow. "Hopefully, in a year we will be back to where we want to be, or close to it, "Downing said.

Student Loans

Students drowning in loan debt Student loans have become a major problem in our nation, as well as our state.

Student loans, although a good concept, are continuing to overload students with debt for years, or even a lifetime.

 Representative Hansen Clarke drafted the Student Loan Forgiveness Act that would limit eligible borrower's monthly payments to 10 percent of their income for 10 years. After that period of time, the rest of the loans that were not paid would be forgiven. However, current students with debt believe this act will not do much good.

University of Mississippi student Claire Campbell still stays wary of her student loan debt. "I'm pretty afraid of how long it will take me to pay off my debt," Campbell said. "Although my parents are helping pay some off if I pass my classes, students still have the loans looming over their heads."

Campbell believes the forgiveness act is too forgiving, and should focus on reducing the interest. "The act sends a bad message to our kids," Campbell said. "Yes, you can sign this contract and when things get a little scary, don't worry about your commitment, you can just forget about it and quit!"

Debt does not only affect undergraduate students, but even those who pursue higher education. Dr. Leslie Rasmussen graduated with her Doctoral Degree in May, and now has to face her student loan debt head on. "Realistically, I know I'm in much better shape than a lot of people I know with debt, but it still stings a little," Rasmussen said. "People need teachers and professors, but we, especially professors, rack up crazy loans to get through a master's and PhD program."

Rasmussen believes the act is a good start, but is not a deep enough change to affect the national problem. Student loans can be overwhelming to pay off, but not impossible to have forgiven.

To have a loan forgiven, the borrower must meet three standards before being cleared of their debt. The debtor must meet three requirements before having their debt forgiven. 1) The debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a "minimal" standard of living for the debtor and the debtor's dependents if forced to repay the student loans; 2) Additional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period of the student loans; and 3) The debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans. However, it is difficult for most to prove all three of these requirements.

The best way to avoid student loan debt is to know what type of loans to take out, and use them wisely. There are many types of student loans. Stafford loans are the most common federal education loans students receive. These loans can be subsidized or un-subsidized. Perkins loans are low-interest federal loan. These loans are administered by schools to those who demonstrate extreme financial need. PLUS loans cover expenses not met by financial aid. These can be taken out by student's parents, or graduate students.

 Consolidation loans combine pre-existing loans into one loan with a fixed interest rate. These are general long term loans. Institutional loans are non-federal loans that schools give to students. Private loans and state loans are not federal aid. They can help students who can't get federal aid, or those who do not receive enough aid to cover attendance cost.

 However, even using loans the correct way can still leave a student or former student at a disadvantage. Russ Farris, an employee at The Chronicle Newspaper in Laurel, has been paying off debt for five years, and has about 25 more years to go before the debt is completely paid off.

 "When I went back to college, student loans were the only way I could afford to go," Farris said. "I honestly thought with a college degree, I'd have a shot at better jobs, but in the state of Mississippi, a college degree isn't worth much." Farris believes student loans are nothing but a scam.

"Sally Mae does not want to help anyone get their loans paid off," Farris said. "They're a bunch of crooks."

The trick with any loan is to only take out what you need at a time. Most students take out loans and use them for things other than school. For more information on how to get student loan debt under control, visit http://www.usafunds.org/borrowers/Pages/controldebt.aspx.

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