Mississippi is in trouble: We are being left behind

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mississippi is in trouble.

Our state is being left behind.

The economy is barely growing, and since the Great Recession we have lost significant ground in median household income against national averages.

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As if it wasn’t low enough already.

Yes, the rest of America has emerged from the recession but we are still stuck in doldrums.

Consider that prior to 2007 Mississippi’s median household income income was $42,500 vs. a $57,400 national average. Today it is roughly $36,000 vs. a $53,700 national average.

That’s only the beginning. Nearly 30 percent of Mississippians under the age of 18 live in poverty, and no state in this great United States of America has more poor people than we do.

U.S. private sector job growth since 2009 is more at 9.5 percent, while Mississippi’s job growth rate sits at 2.5 percent, among the worst in the country. Our unemployment rate is near the bottom, too, at 5.9 percent.

Since early in 2009, when the recession officially ended, Mississippi’s economic growth rate has averaged 0.7 compared to a national average of 1.9 percent.

Mississippi is also in severe financial stress. The state income isn’t sufficient, pushing leaders to siphon from its biggest savings account, the rainy day fund, to the point that its credit rating may be in jeopardy.

Not to mention our high obesity rates, childhood pregnancy rates, and illiteracy rates that lead the nation.

Oxford is on an exact opposite trajectory than the state as a whole in every single category, which can give one a guilty feeling. Here, money is flowing. Education is thriving. But that doesn’t dismiss us from the problem.

Mississippi is our state, and its problems are ours.

What’s happened to Mississippi after the Great Recession can’t be blamed on just one problem, but there’s no secret our politics and political leaders have not helped the situation. If anything, they have made it worse.

While other states have moved forward since 2009, many Mississippi leaders have spent more time worrying over how to keep Mississippi as it was rather than helping it meet its potential.

They have battled over national healthcare, keeping the Confederate stars and bars on the state flag, and making sure gay and lesbian couples don’t feel welcome in the state.

The result, of course, is incessant headlines that make national news and brand Mississippi as a hostile environment to minorities. Businesses don’t like to be associated with anything like that, by the way, which may have something to do with our slow growth.

It doesn’t help either that the hardline partisanship of national politics reached our statehouse about the time that Barack Obama took office, in early 2009.

We have always had Republican and Democrats in Mississippi, but they moved more in step together, with the best interests of the state in mind more of the time. Now, everything is done along hard lines and with hard feelings, just like it is done in Washington.

And here sits Mississippi, with so much potential, getting left further and further behind. Get too far behind, catching up will be nearly impossible.

The good news is that we do have assets needed to make a quick turn, including a well-developed community college system for workforce training and a low cost of living. And, several institutions of higher learning in the state are exemplary.

But we need to figure out how to get that message to the outside world, quickly. Right now, the signals coming from Mississippi are letting the rest of the pack move too far ahead.

*A previous version of this story referred to per capita income when it was meant to compare median household income.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford EAGLE. He can be reached at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.