By almost any measure, Mississippi is the poorest state in the country. While the poorest parts of the state are in the Mississippi Delta, there is significant poverty on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. According to The New York Times’ “Mapping Poverty in America” the neighborhoods surrounding the Mission have poverty rates ranging from 31% to 47%. That’s more than twice the national poverty rate. In the three counties that make up of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, more than 71,000 people live in poverty. Back Bay Mission serves the poorest among them.
How We Understand Poverty
Poverty is lack of access to the things a person needs to be treated as a full member of society. This includes the obvious things like food, clothing, and shelter. It also includes things like education, healthcare, and positive relationships. People who live in poverty are marginalized: they’re excluded from society and treated as less important.
There are many ways to understand different kinds of poverty. The Assets and Opportunities Scorecard, for example, recognizes a different between income poverty, asset poverty, and liquid asset poverty. At Back Bay Mission, we recognize an important difference between situational poverty and generational poverty.
Situational poverty describes poverty that’s the result of a crisis like a natural disaster or an unexpected medical bill. It’s often temporary.
Generational poverty describes a situation where two or more generations of the same family are born into poverty. It is a persistent problem and a vicious cycle: more than forty percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder, and more than seventy percent of those raised in the bottom half, remain there as adults. Like families living in situational poverty, those living in generational poverty lack the financial and material resources to be part of the middle class. They are also often lacking the mental, emotional, and social supports that they need to live in the middle class. Even if they make it into the middle class, they are likely to slip back into poverty.
Many families on the Mississippi Gulf Coast live in generational poverty. In order to meet their needs, Back Bay Mission must do two things. First, we must meet the immediate needs of people living in poverty. Second, we must help people develop the resources they need to escape poverty.
Poverty in Mississippi
Poverty in Mississippi is endemic and severe. According to Talk Poverty, Mississippi ranks:
Overall poverty rates aren’t the only challenges that Mississippi faces, however. According to the same study, Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom in unemployment (49th), disconnected youth (47th), higher education attainment (47th), hunger and food insecurity (50th), assets and savings (51st), and teen birth rate (48th).
Resources in Mississippi
No one can escape poverty on their own. Everyone needs help to make that transition.
Many people believe that poverty is the result of bad personal choices, poor discipline, a sense of entitlement, or a ‘culture of poverty’. This belief leads to little investment – public or private – in the systems we need to help people make their way out of poverty.
Public Resources for Poor Families
Mississippi is the home of many great writers, athletes, artists, musicians, and other cultural icons. It is also a state with deep-seated social and economic problems. According to the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, Mississippi ranks:
- 51st in financial asset and income outcomes,
- 49th in business and job outcomes,
- 26th in housing and homeownership outcomes,
- 38th in healthcare outcomes, and
- 50th in education outcomes
These outcomes aren’t surprising given the policies enacted in, and the investments made in, Mississippi. According to the same source, Mississippi ranks:
- 40th in financial asset and income policies,
- 36th in business and job policies,
- 50th in housing and homeownership policies,
- 20th in healthcare policies, and
- 46th in education policies
There is no question that Mississippi is a complicated state. There is also no question that Mississippi does not rank well when it comes to implementing policies that would alleviate poverty.
Private Resources for Poor Families
Mississippi is a generous state and there are several nonprofit organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (many of which were founded by Back Bay Mission). It’s important to recognize the limits of those resources, however.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy and a study conducted by WalletHub, Mississippi is the 22nd most generous state in the country. It ranks 47th in number of people who report volunteering and 48th in number of charities per capita. In 2012, Mississippians gave about 5% of their adjusted gross income, or about $1.5 million to charitable causes. That percentage is slightly lower on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Of course, there are many organizations serving the poor and marginalized of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including several founded by Back Bay Mission. These include:
- Loaves and Fishes
- Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Nonviolence
- Open Doors Homeless Coalition
- Rebekah’s House
While we’re grateful for these ministries and more, there is a lot of work to be done on the Mississippi Gulf Coast!