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 number 50, showing us with the lowest median household income ($40,593) and the highest poverty rate (22.0%).
Among neighboring states, Arkansas ranked 49 with the second lowest income figure ($41,995) and the fourth highest poverty rate (19.1%). Alabama ranked 47 with the fourth lowest income figure ($44,765) and the fifth highest poverty rate (18.5%). Louisiana ranked 44 with the seventh lowest income figure ($44,765) and the third highest poverty rate (19.6%). Tennessee ranked 42 with the ninth lowest income figure ($47,275) and the tenth highest poverty rate (16.7%).
Nationally, the average median household income was $55,775 and the poverty rate was 14.7%.
Other Census Bureau data showed 44.3% of Mississippi households earned under $35,000 compared to 31.9% nationally; 2.1% earned of $200,000 or more versus 5.8% nationally. Right at 8% received Supplemental Social Security benefits compared to 5.5% nationally; 18.2% received SNAP benefits (food stamps) versus 12.8% nationally, and 34.4% received Social Security benefits versus 30.8% nationally.
Of employed Mississippi civilians age 16 and over, 17.9% were local, state, and national government workers compared to 13.6% nationally.
Of Mississippians age 18 to 64 with jobs, 15.8% had no health insurance coverage compared to 11.6% nationally. Of those without jobs, 44.7% had no insurance versus 28.5% nationally.
All these statistics result in large part from our low workforce participation and job growth rates. Just 58.9% of Mississippians age 16 and up participate in the workforce compared to 63.9% nationally, and, since 2010, private sector jobs in Mississippi grew just 7.3% versus 13.6% 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.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (firstname.lastname@example.org)