Facing South

A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on poverty in the struggling state

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A black male born in Mississippi today can expect a shorter life span than the average American in 1960. A black woman in Mississippi earns less today than the typical American in 1960. The overall infant mortality rate for nonwhites in Mississippi is more than 18 per 1,000 births, about the same as Libya and Thailand. Overall, black Mississippians are worse off than other black Americans, ranking second to last on the health and income index (just ahead of Louisiana) but dead last in education.

That's just some of the startling disparities detailed in A Portrait of Mississippi: Mississippi Human Development Report 2009, a new county-by-county assessment that examines disparities by county, race, and gender, using such indicators as life span, earnings, incidence of diabetes, high school completion, crime and birth weight.

The report was produced by the American Human Development Project, a nonprofit established to analyze human development in the United States drawing on an internationally-recognized framework established by the United Nations Human Development Report.

For almost twenty years, the United Nations has used the Human Development Index to examine poorer nations in the areas of health, education and income, but in 2008 American Human Development Project produced The Measure of America, the first-ever study of human development in the United States and the first time the HDI had been used to examine any of the world's eighth wealthiest nations. The report provided a state-by-state analysis using a numerical measure of well-being and opportunity made up of health, education, and income indicators.

A Portrait of Mississippi, the first-ever human development report at the state level, was commissioned by Oxfam American and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP as a follow-up to the state's extremely low ranking on the national index. While many of the Gulf states have some of the country's lowest levels of educational attainment, income, and life expectancy, Mississippi ranks last in the nation on overall human development.

Among the Mississippi report's findings:

  • Whites in Mississippi today have a human development level comparable to that of the average American circa 1997. African Americans in the state, on average, experience the level of access to choices and opportunities of the average American in 1974--a 23-year gap between the two groups.
  • When geography and race are combined, the gap nearly triples. White Mississippians living in Hinds County have a human development level roughly comparable to that of top-ranked Connecticut. African-Americans living in Pike-Adams have human development level of the average American circa 1960.
  • While the range of earnings for whites in all county groups spans from $22,000 to $38,000, for African Americans, the earnings range is $13,000 to $25,000. In other words, whites who are worst off in the state in terms of income are still better off than the majority of African Americans.
  • The median earnings of African American men, $20,368, are comparable to those of the typical American in 1970. African American women have median earnings of $ 14,915 - less than the earnings of the typical American in 1960.
  • Although whites have higher well-being scores than African Americans in every U.S. state, Mississippi is among the four states with the largest disparities between the two groups. (The others are Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alabama.)
  • Though whites are doing better than African Americans in Mississippi, they are doing less well than whites in other states. On the overall Index, whites in Mississippi rank 48th on the state list. They are 46th in education and are tied for last with West Virginia whites in terms of health. They perform somewhat better on the income index, ranking 40th on the list. A white resident of Washington D.C., which has the country's highest score for whites, lives eight years longer, earns 2.4 times more, and is five times more likely to have a college degree than a white resident of Mississippi.
  • African Americans in Mississippi, on average, are worse off than African Americans in most other states. Of the 39 states with an African American population sufficiently large to be included in this analysis, Mississippi ranks second-to-last on the overall state index as well as on the health index and income index (Louisiana is last) and last on the education index. Compared to an African American from Mississippi, an African American living in Maryland lives four years longer, earns twice as much, and is twice as likely to have a college degree.
  • The average cost per year of keeping an inmate in prison in Mississippi in 2006 was $15,000; the average expenditure per pupil for elementary and junior high school in the state that same year was just over $7,000. Thus the state is spending twice as much per prisoner as it is on education per schoolchild.
  • An African-American baby boy born today in Mississippi can expect to have a lifespan shorter than that of the average American in 1960.

The report recommends calls on lawmakers to push for policy to help the poor -- earned income tax credits, state minimum wages, affordable housing, affordable health care and subsidized child care. The study also calls for improving education (about half the Mississippi males do not graduate on time, and a third of black males over 25 do not have a high school diploma). Better education opportunities for black youth could help curb the high levels of incarceration rates facing black males in the state.


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re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

While the stats in the article may be revealing about the sad state of affairs in MS, it truly fails to address the root cause(s) and the authors conclusion is totally wrong, much like others who write. The problem is not the money. The problem is multi faceted and money won't fix it. The breakdown of the family and of family morals and values is the problem. The welfare state makes people not care to get a job or get an education. Sit at home and watch TV and eat high fat foods is a lot easier than working. Even crime pays. There is no impetus to make people want to do better. Quit wasting the taxpayers money on give-aways. Until the black community embraces "change" - a change back to traditional family values - work ethics, morals, etc, they will never come out of the poverty cycle. Run the printing presses all you want. Money won't solve this problem.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

Although I am extremely busy, after reading the comments from the "southern realist," I could not help but to respond. I thought your comment was anything, but "real." I am a highly favored African American woman with an income in excess of $100k. OH! Did I also mention that I eat healthy, I am employed, AND I employ others? (...sorry, this additional info was strictly included only to drive home a point to the "southern realist"). Undoubtedly, the statistics mentioned in this article were very eye opening for me. Although I am not privy as to where this data was collected, I do believe it is likely accurate, however, not for the reasons you mentioned. Unfortunately, misery loves company. When you take states like MS, LA, AL, etc. who have an overall poor and uneducated population among people of all classes, races, and genders, what you get are people who want to make themselves feel superior. Despite, in the big scheme of things, they fall short in all areas when compared to the rest of the country. Instead of blaming the disparity on frivolous stereotypes, try becoming a mentor; try creating employment opportunities; try treating your neighbor as you would yourself; try praying for others; and if you can't do any of these things, try just being quite. We would all appreciate this.

"YES, we can!"

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I was born and raised in one of the poorest counties educationally in the state of MS. I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by books and a family of avid readers that expected me to go to college. We were upper middle class....."rich" in our town, though my father's income did not top $20,000 a year until the 1980's. I was saddened to see attitudes from others my age and older who would say to me "you think you are better than everyone else going off to college." This attitude seemed very prevalent in the African American communities. Very few even considered college, and many had children before getting out of high school. The welfare system is very flawed there. If you get above a poverty level income, you get cut off from benefits completely. So you end up getting more money if you stay home! I now live in North Carolina, and single Moms I know who work and get a decent wage still qualify for subsidized housing, childcare, and food stamps. In Mississippi, unless things have changed, you get completely cut off once you get a decent job, and you are set to fail on a single mother's salary. It is not just welfare, attitudes about education, men culturally not stepping up to be husbands and fathers, or lack of money. It is all of these things and much more. There is one positive that is overlooked. Many Mississippians live a sustainable lifestyle(I know my family did) where the small incomes are used to support farming to feed yourself off of your own land. The farmed foods, however are often prepared and served with fried meats with lots of oil and biscuits, cornbread, and VERY sweet tea. The foods were great up until the 1940's when manual labor went away and we didn't need all of those calories. Now it is killing all of them.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I.L.: Please tell us how to fix it. I spent my first 18 years in WASP North Carolina, now have been in Mississippi, because of my husband's work, for 18 years. The cultural differences are alarming. We don't know how to correct the social problems here. We have tried everything we know to do. The state has a tiny budget, and they pour all they possibly can into education. The black children at our schools have every opportunity that the white children do. But they don't sign up for AP courses, and they don't attend to the teachers in class, they sabotage themselves. Many parents do not know how to parent, and they do not value education at all, so the children don't either.

I truly don't know a single white person in Mississippi who does not want black children to excel, to be educated and to be successful. We are all in this together. This is an unbelievable tragedy. What would you do to fix these problems? We have ideas, but cannot prescribe, because we are white, and therefore, not trusted. I have to say, I agree with southernrealist. The destructive culture and lifestyles have to be reversed, but how?

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I'm from MISSISSIPPI I've lived here all my life. These statements are so TRUE! This RED state is so BACKWARDS! We have REPUBLICANS in charged who would rather this state FAIL than to improve the quality of life for all MISSISSIPPIANS!

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

This information is helpful in my research. I came back after years out west and while many are nice this scientist turned chemistry teacher just realized that good old boys still rule . It isn't always black or white but ignorance is bliss or laziness. I was just forced out for crying after being assaulted by several students angry that I refused to dumb down the subject content and refusing to give grades to keep a school reputation looking good
Some parents don't value education, some care, many want the kids to be given grades but the level of barbaric behavior toward teachers who try to hold kids accountable is stunning and some of us have video documentation including students dumb enough to put it on You Tube which the district took down to avoid embarrassment after a month of sexual misconduct by young teachers. Then there are the threats in faculty meetings toward teachers if state scores aren't good and the principal loses his job.he will take us down with him he says.
We found a way to record this video and will release it nationally soon. MS is embarrassing to me I have torn up my teaching license HS diploma and plan to get out of here. I will never admit to being from here again. It is where there is southern inhospitality.
And this is what I gave up grad work at Stanford for? MS doesn't want to raise standards or have an intelligent citizenry they like em dumb and poor.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I grew up in Holmes County. One of the poorest counties in the US of A for as long as I can remember. I have also been in education for 18 years so I'm speaking from experience. If you look at the poverty level in Mississippi by counties, you will find that most of those are in one congressional district. That district gets more money than any other district and has for a long time. In those counties, nothing has changed and may I add that the congressman in that district is a Democrat not a republican. Mississippi is the greatest example of why entitlement programs DON'T work. We pour more money into this and the poverty level either rises or stays the same. Education is exactly the same way. We need to start giving those in need the "fishing pole" instead of the "fish". If we will come up with a way to make people want to work that can and stop encourging them to wait for a check each month, the problem will fix itself. Help those that can's help themselves. Not those that don't want to. Distribute my work ethic, not my wealth.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I.L. - Your response is very typical of black Americans - head in the sand and denial. Of course there are very successful black Americans but there is a very troubling and substantial population that are underachieving and black leaders, instead of promoting education, are promoting victimhood and demanding additional entitlements. Why isn't Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in Mississippi exhorting the black community to value education? The facts are that blacks have, by a substantial margin, the highest crime rate, the highest illegitimacy rate (70%), and the highest dropout rate.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

I moved to MS because I married a Mississippian. When I moved here I saw an immediate difference in the people as a whole. Where hatred lives ignorance dwells also. Even poor whites will vote republican because they believe that whites are republicans. Mississippi is a state where knowing someone or being the cousin of a sherriff will get you a job in law enforcement, not ability but familiarity. I work feverishly to educate my children because I know if they graduate from a MS public school..they will have simpley wasted their time. Until hatred and fear is removed...MS will always be dead last in education and 1st to fight over whether it should keep the confederate flag.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

Yeah, that's the ticket Susan: cowardly running from the problem.

As a Mississippian who fancies himself to be educated and idealistic, it's people like you who wrench my gut. You complain about Mississippi's problems, yet offer no solutions. You only shrug your shoulders in defeat, leave, and never look back. Mississippi cannot and will not improve if the people with the gumption and know-how to improve it just tuck their tails and run away.

Go. Go wherever it is you want to get away from Mississippi. Just know that some of us are willing to confront our demons head-on, even if doing so seems futile, to make our home a better place.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

try starting up microcredit for housing, education, health and hardship loans/loans in general

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

It is amazing you would say that Republicans are in charge. Since 1876 Mississippi has had only 2 republican governors. In other words, 30 of the last 32 governors have been Democrats.
Perhaps, you may want to revisit your blame game.

re: A Portrait of Mississippi: A new report shines light on pove

You failed to mention where you are from originally.That would be interesting info. I have lived in Mississippi all of my life and what you say is totally untrue. Perhaps you will look at another one of my post informing the people on here that since 1876, Mississippi has only had 2 Republican governors. That's right. Of 136 years, 120 of those years Mississippi has been under the democratic party governorship. For years, my family voted for Democrats just because our parents or our grandparents did.