EDITORIAL: Poverty persists

The U.S. Census and the Appalachian Regional Commission this week released new statistics showing a rise in the poverty rate in rural counties across the nation, including many in the Delta and Appalachian regions of Mississippi.
The studies measure the change in the poverty rate between 2003 and 2008. Nationwide, 13.2 percent of Americans were in poverty; in rural counties the rate was higher – 16.3 percent.
A two-person household was considered poor if it had income of less than $14,051 in 2008; the poverty level for a family of four was $22,025 and less.
The Appalachian Regional Commission counties in Mississippi illustrate the challenge still confronting private-sector economic developers and government-sector partners. In the 2009-2010 federal budget year:
– 82 of the 420 counties in the ARC region are classified as distressed, and 12 of those are in Mississippi.
– 79 of the ARC counties are at risk of failure, eight of them in Mississippi.
– Four of Mississippi’s 24 ARC counties are classified as transitional, meaning moving in the right direction.
– No Mississippi ARC counties are listed as competitive or having reached attainment.
– None of the 50 lowest poverty rate rural counties nationwide are in Mississippi.
ARC is a 44-year old federal-state economic development program.
The Census and ARC statistics drive home the point made repeatedly by private-sector development interests: We have made some regional progress, but our counties are still behind, and efforts to close the economic gaps cannot slow down, much less stop.
In 2007, the latest measures available for ARC, Appalachian Mississippi competed with Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia for the lowest per capita income as a percentage of the national average, and per capita income declined on average as a percentage of the national average during the 1990s and earlier this decade.
Further, Mississippi is among the states with the highest ratio of transfer payment income – that is, entitlements like Social Security – as the main source of income. Our state’s ARC region also has a very low ratio of per capita market income, a measure of an area’s total personal income, less transfer payments, divided by the resident population of the area.
The challenges remain; development work cannot diminish.

NEMS Daily Journal