BILL CRAWFORD — State indifference results in “hungriest county” | MS Enterprise Journal


With falling unemployment, growing jobs and rising government tax revenues, bright days are ahead for Mississippi’s economy. “The outlook for our economy is pretty optimistic for the state and the nation,” state economist Corey Miller told Mississippi Today.

But not for all parts of the state.

Consider Jefferson County in southwest Mississippi. There is no threat of a boom there. This rural county of 6,990 people appears to continue to suffer from persistently high unemployment. At an average of 16.3%, the unemployment rate for 2021 is higher than in the previous year; the highest average since 2014. The state averages 6.2%.

The number of jobs has declined each year since 2013 by 28.5% from 2010 and 48% from 2000. The latest non-farm employment report (September 2020) shows 954 jobs in Jefferson County, of which 539 are in that state or local government jobs and only 415 jobs in the private sector. Notably, only 30 were commodity-producing jobs (manufacturing, natural resources, and mining or construction).

The most recent activity rate was only 34.6%. The median annual wage was $ 34,080, 25% below the average state wage of $ 40,687.

The Clarion ledger revealed another dire factoid last week. In an October report by Feeding America, Jefferson County was identified as “the hungriest county in the US”. Data showed the county is the only one in America with a 30% food insecurity rating. (Ratings are based on poverty, unemployment, home ownership, disability prevalence, and food cost index.)

Thing. Another new low rings for Mississippi.

Bill Crawford


Mississippi has eight counties, including Jefferson, which lost 10% or more of jobs from 2011 to 2019 and are now double-digit unemployed. All population lost in the last 10 years. All of them are very poor. And yes, they all have high food insecurity ratings. These counties are Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, and Wilkinson.

That’s 10% of the 82 Mississippi counties with withered economies and growing human hardship.

Well, these conditions didn’t occur overnight, but the trends have worsened over the past decade. You might think that somewhere along the way the state would have put focused, well-staffed, and well-funded programs in place to turn things around.

No And that’s a sad story in itself.

Republicans in control of the state government have shown little interest in providing more than limited economic development assistance to poor, highly democratic counties like these.

It is one thing to have access to programs and quite another to have professional help implementing programs. The efforts to gain and retain jobs and the associated development activities were largely left to each district. Left alone, counties with dwindling economies have little hope of a better future. The past decade proves the point.

It is sad to imagine a state whose leaders are indifferent to the plight of the warring counties. However, this appears to have been the case in Mississippi.

And leaves us with “the hungriest county in the US”

Heads of State should be ashamed … and finally act.

“And if you impersonate the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness and your night will be like noon” – Isaiah 58:10.

“BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.

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