Why is living in rural Mississippi like living in a third-world country? It is ironic that the United States of America is the richest nation in the world (by GDP standards) and at the same time has the highest percentage of people living in poverty. According to the US Census Bureau, as of January 2021, 37.9 million Americans lived in poverty, accounting for 11.6% of the total population compared to the 25 leading industrial countries’ average of 10.7 percent.
Living in rural Mississippi is like living in a third-world country because It is the poorest state in the country with almost 20% of its population living at or below the poverty line. The area known as the Delta is one of the poorest communities in Mississippi
and suffered catastrophic loss from the recent tornado that tore through the area. can the poorest county in the poorest state afford to recover? And that brought to mind the painful images and first-hand accounts of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Would Mississippi’s recovery look any different?
The definition used by the US government to define poverty is not having enough income to meet basic needs. This doesn’t include a new vehicle, smartphone, or computer. It does include a roof over one’s head, food, and other essentials. Doesn’t the picture to right look more like living in a third-world country than in Mississippi?
If you break down the poverty rates by age group, the story is much sadder. According to the Hill, children under the age of 18 have the highest rate of poverty.
Conversley, the lowest poverty rates are for people aged 65 and older. That’s due to the social safety net of Social Security. The poverty rate for children aged 5 and under is the highest at 18% according to The Hill.
Social Safety Nets Lift People Out of Poverty in America
So how did we get here? The increased rates of poverty in Mississippi and the country overall is not a result of unemployment or laziness. It is structural in nature. That means in the majority of poor families both parents are working, but they are still below the poverty line. “Low-wage jobs do not pay enough to provide even a modest standard of living; do not offer adequate benefits to meet the demands of raising children; and leave workers unable to invest in paths to prosperity (like education) or to save for retirement,” according to Oxfam.
The 117th Congress halved child poverty. Specifically, for six months in 2021 (during the pandemic), it lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty by temporarily expanding the Child Tax Credit. It provided $200 – $300 per month per child depending on income, number of people in the household etc.
Even with this proof that social programs can help, Mississippi remains a red state! Meaning its citizens vote largely for Republican lawmakers who oppose social safety net measures. Basically, Mississippians are largely voting against their own self-interest. Further proof reveals the state senate recently voted against expanding Medicaid benefits (part of Obamacare) for the poor. They are only one of 10 states to reject federal funding to do so. That’s why living in rural Mississippi is like living in a third-world country.
Are Missippians aware that 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion comes from the Federal government? And only 10% comes from the state?
According to the NY Times, Medicaid expansion “would guarantee medical coverage to some 100,000 uninsured adults making less than $20,120 a year in a state whose death rates are at or near the nation’s highest for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and pneumonia.” Death rates are so high because the poor are largely uninsured and don’t have access to preventative care.
Since hospitals are not allowed to turn away patients without medical insurance, many hospitals in Mississippi are going bankrupt and closing at alarming rates. Some tornado evacuees had to travel as much as 50 miles to get to the nearest hospital for critical care.
Living in rural Mississippi more closely resembles living in a third-world country than it does living in the richest country in the world. Rural towns across the country are decreasing in population as new generations leave for better opportunities, leaving behind the elderly. In turn, this creates more economic distress.
Yes, Mississippi residents have poorer access to education, are populated with low-paying jobs, and face continuing racial prejudice. But, politically, those living in poverty in Mississippi, in part, have themselves to blame. They consistently vote for Republican leadership which firmly stands opposed to programs to help the poor.
My advice? The residents of Mississippi need to take a hard stand. Make sure your voice is heard and your vote counted. Get organized, peacefully protest, and most of all listen to the political candidates and find out where they stand on reducing poverty. Then pull the lever for only those who want to end it, because living in rural Mississippi should not be like living in a third-world country.
If you want to support victims of the tornado below are national charities with specific funds set up to provide assistance to the victims of the Mississippi tornado:
Mercy Chefs – provides meals to victims and first responders