BY ISN STAFF | September 9, 2016
A new report issued by Loyola University New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) centers around the plight of the worker and working families in Mississippi. The State of Working Mississippi 2016 report reveals that in 2014 17.7 percent of working Mississippi families lived below the poverty line, more than 100,000 working families did not have healthcare, and the median wage of African-American workers was just 72 percent of the median wage for white workers.Since the turn of the century, the report says, Mississippi has faced economic stagnation. The Great Recession exacerbated this problem and the Mississippi economy has not recovered at the same pace as neighboring states or the nation. Low and middle-income workers have been impacted most significantly, while wages for the wealthiest Mississippians and corporate profits have risen steadily. Rates of workers with employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions also have declined over time, further damaging the economic security of working families.
In this revealing new report, modeled after the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America series, JSRI researchers show how these issues span and affect communities. The researchers share key findings, as well as historical and current trends and data — and provide recommendations on how to begin to bridge the gaps.“Working families seek to achieve economic security, meaning that they earn enough to pay for basic living expenses while saving enough to pay for larger and longer-term costs. Increasingly in the United States, workers and their families are not able to achieve this security, especially minority households. This pattern is particularly prevalent in Mississippi,” said Fr. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D., executive director of Loyola’s Jesuit Social Research Institute and chairperson of the Ignatian Solidarity Network Board of Directors. “Moreover, the impacts are disproportionate across racial lines and place the heaviest burden on the state’s most vulnerable. As a social justice research and action group, JSRI aims to spotlight the issues, in hopes that our civic, political, and business leaders, as well as advocates, nonprofits, volunteers and residents, can help both to relieve stress and to reverse this troubling trend.”
JSRI officially released the State of Working Mississippi 2016 report and interactive website on September 8, 2016 at Steps of Action, a Biloxi-based advocacy group striving to advance social justice along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The report can be found here.
The State of Working Mississippi 2016 report was made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Hope Policy Institute of Jackson, the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Center for Justice also provided assistance in developing the data in this report and fashioning its policy recommendations.Jeanie Donovan, JSRI economic policy specialist and principal investigator on the report, led a team of research fellows and student researchers in researching and compiling the State of Working Mississippi Report. In the report, she states that change is possible.
“Mississippi is a vibrant state with economic potential. This holistic report is not simply an economic report or analysis of the plight of the worker and working families in Mississippi―it also provides a roadmap for changing the social environment,” Donovan said. “By making strategic public investments and policy changes, Mississippi leaders have an opportunity to improve the economic reality for the state, its workers, and their families.”
Key findings from the State of Working Mississippi 2016 report include:
- Older Mississippians are more likely to be working today than in 2000, while the number of young people in the state’s labor force has declined.
- Mississippi’s relatively low investment in public education has negative impacts on the state’s economy as a whole and places low-income children at a disadvantage compared to higher income children whose families can afford private education.
- White and African-American workers have nearly the same rate of participation in labor force but there are large racial disparities in wages and total household income.
- Jobs in high-paying industries such as construction and manufacturing are still below what they were before the Great Recession, while the number of jobs in low-wage industries such as food service and personal care occupations have increased, leaving a higher percentage of Mississippi workers in jobs that pay below-poverty wages.
- Growing income inequality has left low and middle class workers without wage increases since the Great Recession, while the highest earning workers have enjoyed significant growth in wages.
- Compensation for workers in Mississippi has not kept pace with increases in corporate profits or worker productivity.
Specific recommendations derived from the findings of this study include:
- Fully fund Mississippi public education, from pre-kindergarten to high school
- Increase access to childcare assistance through TANF funding
- Increase funding for need-based tuition assistance for higher education
- Expand Medicaid
- Raise the minimum wage
- Establish a state Earned Income Tax Credit
- Reduce or eliminate the sales tax on groceries
- Increase state tax revenues without place additional burden on the poor
- Local government action to improve economic justice