Clusters of poverty prominent in state, census data shows

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi has the nation’s highest concentrations of poverty, with nearly half its residents living in areas with many poor people and facing greater hardships because of it, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released today.
About 48 percent of Magnolia State inhabitants reside in poverty areas, which the Census Bureau defines as those where at least one-fifth of the households fall below the federal poverty threshold.
Mississippi’s concentration rate is about 10-15 percentage points above the rest of the Southern states, including Arkansas with 36.4 percent of its residents living in poverty areas, Alabama with 32 percent, and Tennessee with 30.
New Hampshire had the lowest rate; just 5 percent of its inhabitants reside in poverty areas.
The data was compiled using estimates from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey and looking at each census tract in the United States to determine its poverty concentration. A census track is a small, statistical subdivision within a county.
Some of the highest concentrations in Mississippi occurred in the Delta, as well the Jackson metro area. A few other pockets were scattered around the state, including some in Alcorn and Monroe counties.
“People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain neighborhoods rather than being evenly distributed across geographic areas,” the report states. “Many argue that this concentration of poverty results in higher crime rates, underperforming public schools, poor housing and health conditions, as well as limited access to private services and job opportunities.”
A statewide analysis by the Daily Journal in February revealed a direct correlation between the socioeconomic status of a community, including a prevalence or shortage of strong middle-class neighborhoods, and school performance.
Communities whose schools ranked the worst also had the state’s lowest average median household income, lowest average percentage of high school graduates, highest average minority population and highest average property tax millage rate.
Mississippi as a whole typically tops the national charts when it comes to problems like obesity, teen pregnancy, food insecurity among the elderly, infant mortality, childhood poverty, and death by cardiovascular disease – all of which upon the state ranks No. 1.
The state’s unemployment rate of 10.6 percent also is higher than the national average, which as of last month was 8.6 percent.
However, the state ranks low to moderate on violent crime.
The South overall has a higher concentration of people living in poverty areas than any other region, at 27.4 percent. It’s trailed by the West at 21.6 percent, the Midwest at 19 percent and the Northeast at 18.4 percent.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com