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Mississippi has highest poverty rate in America

Jack Schultz

Mississippi is struggling with high rates of poverty, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2011 census shows that more than 128,000 families in Mississippi live below the poverty line. The federal poverty level for a family of four is around $23,000 in income, and 22.6 percent of Mississippians were members of families whose incomes were below this figure. Additionally, the median household income in Mississippi of $36,919 fell far below the national median household income of $50,502. Director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center Ed Sivak said high rates of poverty force residents to struggle. “Families are doing more with less now because of the Great Recession,” Sivak said. Sivak added that economic security exists in quality education and health care, but this has been difficult for families to obtain due to tuition hikes. “Increasingly some of the fundamental blocks of economic security are becoming out of reach.” The census data also shows that more than 500,000 Mississippians did not have health care last year. The state has a low amount of people who receive health insurance through their employer, as well. Yunhee Chang, an Ole Miss professor and expert in demographic economics, said the state has several risk factors which make Mississippians more likely to live below the poverty level. In 2010, there were 55 births per 1000 teen women – far higher than the national average of 34.3, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. One reason for this, according to Chang, is that Mississippians typically receive a lower amount of welfare. Other factors for this high rate include age, education level and family structure, but Chang said the most prominent factor was the high teen fertility rate. “Welfare benefits – that is a cause and consequence, but it’s something we can do to lift families out of poverty,” Chang said. “What we can do to help is try to lower the risk factors like educating the teens about pregnancy and fertility and how that can hurt economically.” Sivak suggested the state avoid a “cuts-only” approach to the issue and focus on raising revenue to make education more affordable.