Census puts state near the bottom

Published 10:41 pm Friday, September 15, 2017

Mississippi found itself on the bottom of the barrel again this week as the Magnolia State came in nearly last on several lists released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Statistically, as a state, the Census says we are poor.

According to the American Community Survey — which is a detailed look at America’s people, places and economy — many states saw an increase in income and a decrease in poverty rates between 2015 and 2016. Mississippi wasn’t one of them.

While the numbers in black and white may look dismal, Lincoln County Economic Development Director Garrick Combs doesn’t put a lot of stock in them.

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After all, the report is for the entire state from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee line and everything in between, he said.

He likes to look closely at the region to get a feel for what’s really happening in Lincoln County — west of Hattiesburg, south of Jackson, east of the Mississippi River and north of Louisiana.

“In those areas, we’re the leader of the region,” he said.

According to the Census, between 2015 and 2016, 30 states showed an increase in median household income. Pennsylvania (1.2 percent) had one of the smallest increases and Idaho (6.3 percent) had one of the largest increases. Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey had among the highest median household incomes for 2016. Though not a state, the District of Columbia was also in the highest median income list.

On the other hand, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia had the lowest median household incomes for 2016.

Mississippi didn’t do much better when it came to poverty, but we weren’t alone. Between 2015 and 2016, poverty rates declined in 24 states. States with poverty rates of 18.0 percent or higher included the District of Columbia and New Mexico, but then that list rounded out in the South with Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

If you want to live in the land of the richest — those states that had a poverty rate below 11 percent — you’ll have to pack up and move to Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota or Utah.

While the numbers for just Lincoln County aren’t available — the Census looked at areas of 65,000 population or more for their latest report — Combs said he believes the county is improving based on the feedback he receives. Even if state numbers aren’t rosy, it’s not negatively affecting business growth in Lincoln County, he said. Industries continue to operate here — like American Railcar Industries, McLane Southern and Rex Lumber — while others are considering a move to this location based on the transportation opportunities by rail and highway.

“We are an economic leader in Southwest Mississippi and we need to do whatever we can do to keep us there,” he said.

Combs said Lincoln County is a retail, industrial and medical hub. Work on those area and Mississippi — or at least the southwest region — will rise from the bottom.

“That’s where we have to concentrate keeping our edge, then those statistics will follow that,” he said.