Sunday, July 12, 2015

Washington ____ asks if Tunica blew its chance to escape poverty.

Washington _____ reporter Chico Harlan pondered whether Tunica County completely squandered its day in the sun when casinos boomed for nearly twenty years in that area in a story published in today's edition.  His thesis is Tunica wasted a golden opportunity to lift itself out of poverty after Sixty Minutes showed Tunica to be one of the poorest areas in America in a 1985 story.  Mr. Harlan reports:


For two decades, ever since her county of plantations and shotgun shacks had struck it rich, she’d been awaiting the prosperity. Great jobs for all, she’d imagined. Improved living standards. Perhaps no place in America’s Deep South had ever received a better chance to create new economic opportunities for its people. Starting in the early 1990s, Tunica had become a neon-lit casino destination. The county had since raked in $759 million, a fortune for a county with 10,000 people.
But as she worried about her house, Engle-Harris — like many in Tunica — was beginning to sense that the greatest windfall in the history of the rural South had failed to lift up a community where many African Americans still lived in crumbling shacklike homes.

Despite all the casino money, a county that ranked in the 1980s among the nation’s poorest today had one of Mississippi’s highest unemployment rates. A county lashed 30 years ago in a CBS News “60 Minutes” segment for its “apartheid” schools still had a mostly white private academy and a public school system that was 97 percent black and was given a “D” grade by the state. A county that the Rev. Jesse Jackson once described as “America’s Ethiopia” had changed little in its poorest neighborhoods, even as riverfront casinos and other lavish development had sprouted up along the farmland hugging the Mississippi River.

Tunica’s strike-it-rich narrative is a rarity in the Deep South. But the disappointing way it played out shows how fundamental — and possibly intractable — the problems are in an area that lags behind the rest of the country as the poorest region with the least economic opportunity. A major research study last year on upward mobility, measuring a poor child’s chances of climbing the economic ladder, found that Tunica had less opportunity than all but six other counties in the United States — scattered across Alaska, South Dakota and Virginia....

What went wrong in Tunica is a matter of perspective. For many African Americans — and the county’s current officials — it was a story of a largely white political leadership that did not grasp the depths of poverty facing many black residents and did not choose to use the casino revenues that flowed into the county in an equitable way. So instead of funding skills training and providing programs for the vulnerable, they poured money into a riverfront wedding hall, an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool and a golf course designed by a former PGA Tour pro — all while implementing a massive tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthy.

“It is a success story for those in the right social circle,” said Engle-Harris, who is black, echoing the perspectives of many African Americans interviewed here.

To the political leadership that developed the casino plans and spent that money, however, the story is one of good intentions gone awry, an attempt to boost an industry that could potentially create jobs in a corner of the country that never had much of an economy or hope for the future.

Whatever the intentions, the results have left Tunica, and more specifically some of its residents, in an economically dangerous place.  Rest of the article.

One problem with the story.  The reporter obtains hardly any quotes from anyone who was in power at during most of this time.  There is one short quote from the county administrators but no discussions with supervisors or business leaders.  The story fails in that regard.  The reporter spends more space on quoting so-called "poverty experts" than he does anyone from the community or business sector who led Tunica County before the current crop of leaders. 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes. The white people failed them by spending more $ per student than in any other area of the state - only to have the school taken-over by the state.

Anonymous said...

This tells me that increased funding for education makes very little difference if it's not spent in the classroom. If most of the increased education money in Tunica was spent on administration, giving jobs to someone's brother or uncle or cousin, It is no surprise that the increased funding didn't help. This is a cautionary tale for everyone who thinks that spending more money on education is going to get anything done. If more money is spent on education, there needs to be a way to prevent it from being spent on more administration.

Anonymous said...

2:19 How does your statement (untrue, BTW) pertain to the WaPo article? As anyone who's visited Tunica can attest, very little of that casino money was spent on the school system.

Anonymous said...

The workforce consists of people who don't know the difference between toast and bacon. I kid you not. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/01/monte-carlo-mississippi/306245/

Anonymous said...

From the article:
"This is a different world," Dorothy Rhea, a waitress at one of the casinos, says, describing the sensation of coming to Tunica from Memphis. To explain what she means, she tells a story of working with a new waitress, a young black woman from Tunica. "She's holding out a plate of bacon," Rhea says of the other woman, "and she keeps asking me, 'Is this toast? I need toast. Is this toast?'" The woman was not being sarcastic, Rhea explains. "She really didn't know what toast was."

Anonymous said...

"all while implementing a massive tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthy."

I am so sick of this bullshit. Poor people don't pay income taxes (hell, they get money back that they never paid in because of the EITC) so the only people who can get their taxes lowered are those who pay taxes. Everyone who works, gets paid, and pays taxes is therefore considered "the wealthy" by the poverty pimps.

Anonymous said...

Typical Yankee thinking he is smarter than anyone in Mississippi. I would love to see him try to educate the students of Tunica.

Anonymous said...

4:57,

Are you serious???

Anonymous said...

If the paving, maybe done with CDBG money, changed the drainage pattern to run up under the houses, there should be some recourse.

Tunica officials did not plan the casinos. All of the casinos were planned and designed in Nevada, to my knowledge.

The first critical need was for housing for casino employees and someone built some apartments. Are they all occupied? The roads constructed were extensive. Wonder what has happened to the empty hotels. Could they be converted to housing for the poorer communities?

I know the problems in the Mississippi Delta are huge and change has not been a hallmark of the last 50+ years. Money has not changed much nor has changing from white to black leadership. The upkeep on the courthouses has been terrible and I don't even know about the school building.

Do Tunica's youth have to pay to go swimming in this indoor facility? What is the wedding center being used for? How many wedding per year? And at what cost. The reporter needs to revisit this story and complete it, I believe.

Anonymous said...

@ 4:57, are you serious? They spent money on buildings and computers way before all of the other schools in the state did. Access to resources has not been the problem in Tunica. The last number that I saw had them in the Top 10 in the state in per student spending - along the lines of $12,000.
The problem, as the PTA president said in the interviews that I heard, is the lack of parental involvment.

Anonymous said...

"skills training". This term cracks me up. Show me where free "skills training" has ever brought anyone up from poverty. It hasn't.

The problem is that you can't FORCE people to become independent, educated, or goal oriented. Either they want a better life (and will do anything to achieve it) of they won't. Giving away "skills training" does nothing. Just live giving away free baby sitting, errrrrr, Head Start, does nothing to improve any kids chance in life.

Want free skills training? Join the military. Maybe you will pick up some disipline and money for college too...

Anonymous said...

"Typical Yankee thinking he is smarter than anyone in Mississippi."

Odds are, he is.

Are you aware of what test scores are in every other state? That Mississippi has the lowest score of all 50 states to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship Finalist status? I cold go on and on but I think big numbers would make your head hurt.

Anonymous said...

Hey 7:01..things have changed in the Delta. Bennie Thompson went from a flat broke local politician to a millionaire. Now that's change you can take to the bank!!!

Anonymous said...

It wasn't too long ago I read an article about how the casinos could use the locals because their math skills were so poor. Thanks Mississippi. At least your flag won't be racist this time next year if the coaches get their way.


Anonymous said...

This paragraph tells it all: Hundreds of years of segregation are now creating a “very hard-to-break pattern of human behavior and economic relations,” said Robert C. Lieberman, the provost at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University and an authority on race in America.

I was a restaurant consultant for several Tunica casino properties and can vouch for 5:02's story about the toast. Management struggled with getting cooks to follow recipes (they couldn't read) and waitstaff didn't understand the basics of service. One reason was they had no experiences they could relate. It was like describing an elephant to a blind man. One server in a steak house didn't understand rare, medium rare, medium, etc. So he just ordered everything medium regardless of what the customer asked. We held a meeting and asked what was the best restaurant each had visited. McDonald's and burger joints and neighborhood juke joints comprised the majority of answers. They also didn't understand they had to show up for work every day they were scheduled and be on time and clean and neat. Handwashing? Not a skill they had learned. And many had a thing about "serving" because they considered it demeaning. Taking orders from guests was viewed as taking orders from the plantation boss. Reread Provost Lieberman's comment above.

Anonymous said...

Well, $12000 per student might have worked if it actually was spent on helping each student and hiring more teachers.

With 10000 people it probably would have improved their lives more just to divide up the money equally.

And, if some of you actually believe that white politicians aren't as wasteful of our tax dollars as black politicians and aren't using our tax dollars to line their own pockets and that of their friends, you are hopelessly naïve. It's a matter of whose friends get the money.

It's hardly been just black politicians in this state who have gone into office as poor boys and come out of office rich!


Y'all need to actually follow the money. And, it's not just our tax money you need to follow. Look at how you elected official lives. Look at the value of his home(s) and compare it to money earned and ask yourselves if it " adds up". It's not just salary either, it's the " freebies".

But, as long as we are math challenged, they can keep not just picking our pocket but actually passing laws and regulations that make it legal to steal! Or didn't you get the memo that our Congress can still indulge in insider trading by just telling their wives and children and other family members how to invest.



Anonymous said...

I was struck by the article as well. One thing it noted was the property tax decrease in the midst of the Casino Boom. It noted that out of 10,000 residents in Tunica, there were 3200 property owners. Of those 3200, 100 of the largest owners collected 76% of the property tax reduction benefit. The problem is that when the property taxes went down, the casino money didn't make up for the deficit enough to create and maintain social services needed to actually invest in the poor people of Tunica to help create more social mobility. In order for a community to truly benefit from a property tax decrease, more people need to be paying the property taxes. What probably was a better route to go was to delay a property tax decrease until you have a better representation of the community paying the taxes, that way more of the people would benefit from the decrease.

Aside from the obvious cultural and social divides that came with placing Vegas Style casinos in the poorest county in the country, the political leadership did not grasp the vast challenges of inequality that Tunica presented. One must understand how a community with so much fertile farmland become as segregated as South Africa in the 1980's. The thinking that drove that social arrangement still predominated when the casinos came. To put property tax cuts up as one of the first things that was done reflects the political leadership that was either the actual landed elites or backed by them (which is the case throughout the history and geography of the Mississippi Delta). That thinking has to be broken if there is any hope of helping the people in these communities thrive.

The schooling challenges remain because the schools are still segregated. In community of 10,000, a private academy represents segregation in schooling, which helps bring about what we see in Tunica. The people who have the social capital (knowledge, networks, experience) to actually turn things around educationally in the county have no(perceived) vested interest in doing so (their "interests" don't attend the public schools there). Change in that arena is a steep uphill battle.

Tunica is a microcosm of the challenges of social and political progress in Mississippi as a whole. Politics and politicians that win out locally do not understand/care/ know how to address intractable poverty in many communities. So long as poor people are seen as culturally and morally challenged by those in power, the proper investments and policies will never be enacted. And we will continue to have this conversation for the foreseeable future.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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