By Matija Šerić
The United States of America is globally recognized as a country of freedom, democracy, human rights and equal opportunities. For centuries, this was true, except for the black and Native American populations who were forcibly excluded from American society and pushed to the margins.
America is still the most desirable destination for many immigrants. In 2022, slightly more than a million people legally immigrated to the world’s most powerful country, and the number of residents who were born outside the USA reached more than 46 million. Despite the fact that most people want to try their luck in America, the USA has its dark sides. One of them is poverty.
“I came across towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as neglected and tortured. It’s globalization, people say… For me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheap labor; globalization means that by outsourcing it is possible to impoverish the American community to the point where it is impossible to separate a cashless city in the dusty interior from a Third World country.” A few years ago, the famous American travel writer Paul Theroux wrote the previous sentences in an article for the New York Times based on his book from 2015: “Deep South: Four Seasons on a Backroad.” And he’s definitely right.
Every fifth inhabitant lives in poverty
The poorest US state is Mississippi. In year 2023, the state had the highest poverty rate in the USA – as much as 18.7% of the population lived below the poverty line. The national poverty average in America is 11.7%. According to the poverty rate the next states follow: Louisiana (17.8%), New Mexico (16.8%), West Virginia (15.8%), Arkansas (15.2%), Alabama (14.9%), Kentucky (14.9%), Oklahoma (14%), Georgia (14%) and South Carolina (13.8%). According to Associated Press poverty statistics from 1982 to 2021, Mississippi was the poorest state in 19 of the 40 years and among the five poorest in 38 years.
Approximately one in five inhabitants lives in poverty. About 564,000 inhabitants live in some form of poverty. About 8% of the population lives in severe poverty, while the US national average is 5%. Mississippi ranks next to last in overall child well-being among the 50 states, taking into account categories such as the number of children in poverty, the number of children out of school, the number of children without health insurance and teenage pregnancy. The child poverty rate jumped from just over 5% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. Admittedly, the rate was the lowest in history in 2021, and experts say pandemic-era programs aimed at low-income families played a big role. role. The situation is still bad.
The worst US state to live in
In 2022, food insecurity in Mississippi averaged 15.3%. This makes Mississippi the hungriest US state with a food insecurity rate of 32%, significantly higher than the US national average of 10.4%. A relatively large proportion of households live in difficult conditions. The median household income in 2022 was $48,610, which is well below the national average of $74,580. Mississippi’s safety score was the lowest in the nation after Washington, D.C., with the highest homicide rate at 23.7 per 100,000 people. The capital city of Jackson has the most murders. The NiceRX study found that Mississippi had the highest percentage of adults who said they did not have health care because of high costs — 19.2%.
The unemployment rate in October this year was 3.3%, which is not bad, but the problems are of a different nature. According to estimates by American experts from the company WalletHub, when categories such as health and safety, education, purchasing power and socioeconomic segments are taken into account, Mississippi is the worst state in the state to raise a family. Despite its rich history and cultural heritage, the country faces numerous economic challenges, including limited employment opportunities, low wages and a high percentage of residents living below the poverty line. Efforts are being made to address these issues, but Mississippi still struggles with deep-seated poverty.
The Magnolia State, slavery and racial segregation
Mississippi is also called the “Magnolia State” and the “State of Hospitality.” It is located in the American south on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi River, after which it was named. Mississippi borders Tennessee to the north, Alabama to the east, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast to the south, and Louisiana and Arkansas to the west on the Mississippi River.
Mississippi lies almost entirely within the eastern coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico and the terrain consists of lowland plains and low hills. The population of the state is 2.9 million inhabitants. Before the American Civil War, most of the economic activity in the country took place along the riverbeds, on plantations where black slaves worked. In the war, Mississippi was on the side of the Confederacy which lost the war. After the war and the liberation of the black slaves, the lands along the rivers were emptied.
By the end of the 19th century, African Americans were the majority of landowners along the Mississippi Delta and the majority of the state’s population. Due to the financial crisis, timber and railroad companies bought up a lot of land and displaced blacks. Since the 1930s and the Great Migration (of the black population), the state has become majority white despite still having a large number of African Americans. After the Civil War until the 1960s, the Democratic Party, or white Democrats, had absolute power in Mississippi, as well as in most other southern states, which were called the Solid South.
After the war, the Democrats advocated states’ rights and racial segregation – white supremacy throughout the South in accordance with the so-called Jim Crow laws. In the first half of the 20th century, about 400,000 blacks left the Magnolia State to find a better life in the North, Northwest and West of USA. For example President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 won as much as 94% of the vote in Mississippi.
After giving blacks the right to vote and ending racial segregation in the 1960s, whites began to turn to the Republicans and blacks to the Democrats, as the agendas of the two parties changed. In the same state where 20 years ago the Democrat FDR won in total convincing, in 1964 the ultra-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater won with 87% of the vote. The same trends occurred throughout the south.
Many today joke that white Democrats in the South have practically been “eliminated” since the Republican Party filled the vacuum created after the Democrats sailed into waters too liberal for Southerns. Bill Clinton was the last white Democrat from the South to win the presidency. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump received 57.9% of the vote, while Hillary Clinton received only 40.1%, and the ratio was almost identical in 2020, when Trump received 57.6% of the vote, and Joe Biden received 41.06%.
Bible Belt state
Mississippi has always been known for its rich cultural heritage and for being the birthplace of American blues music, which strongly influenced rock and roll. Some even claim that it is the origin of rock and roll. In addition, the scenery in Mississippi is enchanting with a handful of hiking trails, fishing spots, camping locations and good southern food, especially catfish. Because of its high religiosity, Mississippi belongs to the so-called The Bible Belt of the United States where religion plays a significant role in all walks of life. It is the most religious American state with a percentage of about 86% of believers. As many as 59% of the population consider themselves to be very religious. 74% are Protestants (Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists), 8% Catholics, 1% Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1% Mormons.
Mississippi is the state with the highest proportion of black population at 37.6% excluding Washington D.C. Whites make up 57.9% of the population, Latinos 3.6%, Native Americans 1.6%, Asian Americans 1.5%. However, in Jackson, the majority of the population is black (83%), which leads to tension between the city’s Democratic authorities and the Republican-controlled state authorities. From 2000 to 2010, Mississippi had the highest rate of increase in its mixed-race population, up to 70%, and the highest rate of mixed-race marriages in the US. This is encouraging since until half a century ago, multiracial marriages were prohibited in accordance with racial segregation. The percentage of residents who declare themselves to be of two or more races is 1.5%.
Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is 9.6 per 1,000, making it higher than China, Russia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka or Lebanon. The US national average is 5.1 deaths per thousand newborns. It is more than worrying. Life expectancy in Mississippi is the lowest in the US at 71.9 years. According to many statistics, the state ranks among the worst in America in terms of health care. Mississippi has the highest overall death rate and the highest death rate from heart disease, high blood pressure, influenza, and pneumonia. More than 30% of the population is obese. Mississippi’s development is also hampered by the poor state of education. Only 23.2% of the adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree, which is significantly lower than the national average of 37.7%.
Causes of poverty
Why is Mississippi one of the worst states to live in the US? The reasons can be found in history. The excessive reliance on cotton and other agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, rice. Numerous natural disasters such as hurricanes (Hurricane Katrina), floods and fires, slow development of railways and other roads also contributed to economic failures.
For decades, the economy was based on rural agriculture and not on industrial development, which was fatal. Due to the reliance on plantations, the wealthy elite opposed the development of roads and railroads that would lead to industrialization. Cotton farming used to be very profitable, however, as agricultural mechanization increased, the need for farm labor and laborers decreased, leaving many workers to migrate north, most of them going to St. Louis and Chicago. Now farms require fewer workers, eliminating many jobs in the area and increasing poverty. In many parts of Mississippi, industrialization did not begin until the last decades of the 20th century. When it finally appeared, many factories of various goods went outside of America as a direct result of globalization.
The poorest area of Mississippi is located within the delta of the river. The Delta is known for its massive river floods, but it is also one of the most fertile areas in the US. The principal county is Quitman County which contains the towns of Marks, Lambert, Sledge, Falcon and Darling. The county is also the least populated area in Mississippi. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. he wanted the Poor People’s Campaign to start in Quitman County because that area was impoverished even in the 1960s. After his death, residents protested against the economic conditions.
Although a lot of money comes from casinos located along the Mississippi River and on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and from tourist visits to the beautiful nature, these revenues should be even higher. Lack of adequate education is often the reason for the impossibility of finding good jobs and obstacles to economic progress. Underinvestment in education proved to be extremely bad because the creativity of creating new jobs was absent, and it is precisely this creativity that is characteristic of America.
In addition to poor public services at the federal level such as poor health and education and mismanagement of the economy, Mississippi’s impoverishment was also contributed to by the ignorance of the federal authorities who did not know or did not want to attract programs and projects to create a quality environment for the proper development of the southern USA- And.
Bad economic situation
The main economic branches of modern Mississippi are agriculture and forestry. The state produces more than half of America’s farm-raised catfish and is also a leading producer of sweet potatoes, cotton and pulp. Other sectors include utilities, transportation and healthcare, and manufacturing, including the chemical and automotive industries. Today, most people work as truck drivers, deliverymen, salespeople, nurses and teachers. Mississippi is so poor because of a lack of good paying jobs, inadequate education, health care and generally low wages.
Negligence of federal authorities
Although the state was among the poorest in the US for decades, only a tiny fraction of federal welfare money went directly to Mississippi’s poor families. The recent welfare scandal exposed how millions of dollars were diverted to the rich and powerful (including professional athletes) instead of helping those most in need.
According to the state auditor and state and federal prosecutors, the Mississippi Department of Human Services allowed well-connected people to squander tens of millions of dollars in welfare benefits from 2016 to 2019. The department’s former director, John Davis, pleaded guilty to charges related to welfare abuse. care in one of the biggest cases of corruption in the public sector in that country. Money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funded projects by the wealthy, including $5 million for a volleyball court.
Some of the money that was intended to help low-income families was spent on luxury trips for Davis and those close to him, to pay for drug rehab for a former professional wrestler, and to pay for gymnastics classes for public officials, etc. In contrast, welfare recipients they say that the modest amounts of social assistance gave them a little relief, but brought a lot of bureaucratic headaches.
Deep-rooted problems in the economy, education, health and social welfare system have contributed to the bad situation. Although Mississippi is known for its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, problems such as a lack of well-paying jobs, inadequate education, high poverty rates, and poor health and social services have made it the poorest state in the US. The movement of thousands of jobs from America to China, India, Mexico and other countries has caused some parts of the US to fall into poverty.
Although poverty exists across the US, Mississippi has fared the worst. Rich American company owners profited from cheap foreign labor, while the common American people were left short-handed. It seems that American businessmen should invest in the American South as they do in the countries of Asia and Africa, because at the same time many American regions are becoming more and more like Asia and Africa. Not to mention military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the many countries and movements that the US government generously funds.
Trump’s promises to bring back lost jobs are one of the reasons why Mississippi voters gave him strong support in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Whoever is in the White House, residents are left hoping that the low cost of living and beautiful nature will help in starting the economy and creating jobs. The future will show whether economic recovery will follow or stagnation will continue. However, not everything is so black and the state is among the top 10 in the USA when it comes to the mental health of the population – it is in 9th place. It is an indicator that even poor areas can be happy.