OUR OPINION: Poverty culture impedes potential

By NEMS Daily Journal

An avalanche of statistical information cited by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour and recently released by the U.S. Census points to the necessity of bipartisan state leadership devising and implementing a more comprehensive plan to reduce poverty in Mississippi to what could be reasonably understood as manageable levels.
The Census report on concentrations of poverty shows that Mississippi ranks first among all the states in the percentage of residents living where the poverty rate is 20 percent or more of the population: 45.7 percent in a population of 3 million.
Such concentrations of poverty are more than distractions in realizing goals and fulfilling dreams – they require a diversion of resources and attention slowing gains in larger measures of prosperity.
Gov. Barbour cited significant per capita income growth on Wednesday when he spoke in Tupelo – 30 percent since the mid 2000s, to $31,186 in 2010. But we’re still dead last among the states. We’re thousands behind our neighboring states, with particularly larger gaps compared to Tennessee and Louisiana. The national income average is $40,584, the Department of Commerce reported for 2010.
A U.S. Census report earlier this year cited 46.2 million Americans living in poverty. The number has grown by 2.6 million in one year, the largest one-year increase since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures in 1959.
The poverty rate for U.S. adults is reported at 13.7 percent, but for households that are led by a single mother, the poverty rate is 31.6 percent. Mississippi, with a majority of babies born to single-mother households, is particularly vulnerable on that point.
The Nov. 30 issue of “Education Week” magazine reported, in an article by Peter DeWitt, “In our present economic climate, where it seems that politicians are completely disconnected from the people who voted for them, schools have a serious issue with poverty. It doesn’t matter whether it is a rural, urban or suburban school district; the number of students living in poverty is rising, which can be devastating to their education.”
DeWitt writes that children growing up in poverty demonstrate lower academic achievement because of their exposure to a wide variety of risks.
“Children whose parents are less literate and whose homes have less rich intellectual environments enter school already so far behind that they rarely can catch up,” DeWitt wrote.
The information isn’t new; it is persistent.
If state leaders don’t focus on resolving problems leading to inadequate educational attainment, Mississippi can’t meet its economic potential.