Sid Salter: Poverty numbers increase despite successes 9/27/2013

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2013

Poverty numbers increase despite successes

Listening to Gov. Phil Bryant and Mississippi Development Authority director Brent Christensen of late, it’s hard not to be impressed with Mississippi’s economic development efforts.

Bryant’s talked a lot in recent days about his administration’s creation of more than 5,000 new jobs so far in 2013: “This is a testament to Mississippi’s workforce and to our efforts in fostering a strong business climate. Economic development is a dynamic team sport, and I appreciate the work of Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen and the entire MDA team for their hard work and dedication,” Bryant said.

Then there is the news that Area Development Magazine ranked Mississippi ninth for Top States Doing Business and gushed: “Mississippi is on an economic roll”. Bryant also noted in a recent Twitter post that Mississippi’s travel and tourism industries – still rising from the impacts of Hurricane Katrina and lingering negative perceptions from the BP oil spill – added $408 million to the state’s Fiscal Year 2012 state revenue and contributed more than 83,000 direct jobs.

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Perhaps the crown jewel in northeast Mississippi in recent months has been the Yokohama Tire Company plant in West Point. The first phase of the project represents a $300 million investment by Yokohama and will create 500 new jobs. Potential future expansions are projected to increase the company’s investment to more than $1 billion and to raise employment from 500 to 2,000 jobs.

But at the same time as these very positive economic development numbers in the state are being cited, the Pew Charitable Trusts just released their analysis of data from the Census Bureau which shows that Mississippi’s poverty rate in FY 2012 was a highest-in-the-nation 24.2 percent and that during the same year Mississippi’s median household income was a lowest-in-the-nation $37,095.

During FY 2012, the national average poverty rate was 15.9 percent while the national median household income was $51,371. Surprisingly, Mississippi’s median household income in FY 2008 was $40,323 and has declined steadily over the succeeding fiscal years to the present $37,095.

The state’s poverty rate has increased over the same period from 21.4 percent to the present 24.2 percent.

So, how is it possible that the state’s median income can steadily decline, the state’s poverty rate can steadily increase, and that the governor and his economic development professionals can be telling the truth when they announce positive economic development numbers?

Easy. What the totality of the numbers reflect is that the national recession did a number on Mississippi and that as has historically been the case, Mississippi is usually slow to slip into a recession and slow to exit it as well when measured against national numbers.

But Mississippi’s recent increases in sales tax revenues and other economic signals “feel” like the state’s economy has improved. So why the increased poverty numbers in Mississippi and why the decreased median income numbers?

The hard fact is that like the rest of the country, Mississippi lost a lot number of jobs during the recession. Bryant and his economic developers inherited a state economy that was a rocky as any in recent memory.

Success in economic development is hard every day in the poorest state in the union. It’s harder still when the global economy is in the tank.

What Bryant’s recent successes in replacing the state’s lost jobs coupled with the undeniable poverty numbers do mean is that now that while the state’s revenue stream is beginning to recover, economic development must remain a high priority. Like most public and private institutions in the country, Mississippi’s economy is recovering but hasn’t made it back to 2008 levels just yet.

(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or