EDITORIAL: Struggles ahead. Census data reveals progress and more daunting challenges

By NEMS Daily Journal

The U.S. Census’s release of Community Survey information – a statistical illumination of how the nation, county by county, has changed in the past 10 years – reveals substantial gains in some categories for Northeast Mississippi but also strong challenges moving ahead.
The summaries for our region, reported in Monday’s Daily Journal by staff writer Emily Le Coz, shows substantial gains over 2000 in key categories like educational attainment and median income, but we remain below the state and national numbers in those and other categories.
For too many in our region the American dream has slipped further away from hope as the poverty rate has increased, with all its virtually automatic liabilities.
Education advocates, which includes every civic organization in the region, had reason for optimism in major categories:
• The percentage of regional residents with at least a high school diploma, a concern and focus for action, grew by 10.5 percent, to 74.2 percent, However, we remain behind the statewide average of 78.9 percent, and the nation, 84.6 percent. Organizations like the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi obviously will retain their focus to close that gap and at least match the national average during the coming decade.
• The percentage of area residents with bachelor’s degrees grew by 16.1 percent to raise the average to almost 16 percent, but still Northeast Mississippi trails the state (19.1 percent) and the nation (27.5 percent). As we look toward long-term economic expansion and prosperity, increases to at least the national average are as necessary in that category as in high school graduates.
• Northeast Mississippi also made gains in median household income. The community surveys shows the region standing at $32,411, a rise from $29,039 a decade ago, but we trail the state ($36,796) and the nation ($51,425). The gap between the region and the national and state averages widened in both instances.
The summary reports provide little hard evidence to believe any politician’s claims of having helped make substantial progress for the statewide economy. The hard numbers simply aren’t there.
In Northeast Mississippi, our trailing position demands redoubled efforts to make the best of every economic expansion opportunity, including maximized benefit from the Toyota plant in Blue Springs and its suppliers across the region, coming on line in the fall of 2011.
The new century’s first decade wasn’t kind to our region in terms of existing jobs. We lost thousands, so the hill we need to climb is in some ways steeper than a decade ago.