For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has published data on income and poverty. Related news stories have consistently focused on Mississippi’s humble rankings. Just released statistics show Mississippi continues to be the poorest state with the highest poverty rate.
When stories about this hit the media, Gov. Phil Bryant’s director of communications, Clay Chandler, wrote this in an email to Mississippi Today:
“It is interesting how these statistics only seem important to the media now that Republicans have some political power. Unemployment has been reduced from 9.5 percent to 6 percent. Teen pregnancy is down 26 percent and 92 percent of third-graders passed their reading test in 2016. Mississippi is recognized as the most creative state in the nation for public education by the Education Commission of the States. But Mississippi Today and other media outlets gleefully focus on the negative statistics, often produced by the Obama Administration, in an obvious attempt to discredit any gains Mississippi has made. My suggestion would be to remove the bipartisan label from your heading and print your desires.”
Blaming Obama and criticizing the media seem a real stretch. Sometimes you have to man up to reality.
It wasn’t just Mississippi media that focused on Mississippi’s poor results. 24/7 Wall Street led off its America’s Richest (and Poorest) States rankings with Mississippi at No. 50, showing us with the lowest median household income ($40,593) and the highest poverty rate (22.0 percent).
Among neighboring states, Arkansas ranked 49 with the second lowest income figure ($41,995) and the fourth highest poverty rate (19.1 percent). Alabama ranked 47 with the fourth lowest income figure ($44,765) and the fifth highest poverty rate (18.5 percent). Louisiana ranked 44 with the seventh lowest income figure ($44,765) and the third highest poverty rate (19.6 percent). Tennessee ranked 42 with the ninth lowest income figure ($47,275) and the 10th highest poverty rate (16.7 percent).
Nationally, the average median household income was $55,775 and the poverty rate was 14.7 percent.
Other Census Bureau data showed 44.3 percent of Mississippi households earned less than $35,000 compared with 31.9 percent nationally; 2.1 percent earned $200,000 or more versus 5.8 percent nationally. Right at 8 percent received Supplemental Social Security benefits compared with 5.5 percent nationally; 18.2 percent received SNAP benefits (food stamps) versus 12.8 percent nationally, and 34.4 percent received Social Security benefits versus 30.8 percent nationally.
Of employed Mississippi civilians age 16 and older, 17.9 percent were local, state and national government workers compared with 13.6 percent nationally.
Of Mississippians age 18 to 64 with jobs, 15.8 percent had no health insurance coverage compared with 11.6 percent nationally. Of those without jobs, 44.7 percent had no insurance versus 28.5 percent nationally.
All these statistics result in large part from our low workforce participation and job growth rates. Just 58.9 percent of Mississippians age 16 and older participate in the workforce compared with 63.9 percent nationally, and, since 2010, private sector jobs in Mississippi grew just 7.3 percent versus 13.6 percent nationally.
To get off the bottom we should avoid foolish criticism and man up to reality. We need more private sector jobs with benefits and more Mississippians working.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.