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Census: Nearly Half of Mississippians Live In Poverty Areas

By Evelina Burnett | Published 10 Jul 2014 10:20pm | comments

The Census Bureau says nearly half of all Mississippians lived in areas with high poverty rates in 2010. That’s up from a decade ago and the highest rate in the country. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, agencies working with the poor say they’re still seeing increases in the number of people needing help. 

It’s a busy lunch-time at Feed My Sheep in Gulfport. The soup kitchen served 177,000 meals last year. That’s up from about 101,000 the year before.

Toni G. Adams has been a volunteer here for 4 years and she says she’s noticed the increase.

"We see more homeless people with their families," she says. "We see more children than we have in the past. Our numbers each day goes up, goes up, goes up."

The U.S. Census Bureau said in a report last week that, while 22 percent of Mississippians live in poverty, 48.5 percent of the state's population lives in poverty areas. That’s defined as a census tract with a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher.

Why does it matter if you live in an area with concentrated poverty? Well, the census bureau says there’s research that shows it can worsen the problems already faced by struggling families, such as more crime, poor housing, and fewer jobs.

Sally Lohrbach, program director for the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope in Gulfport, says there are also long-term effects of poverty.

"The longer a family is in poverty, the more they need services as they fall into poverty and they use up their resources that they'd been able to save before they got into that circumstance," she says. "And the longer they are in that circumstance, the more they need the services of the type that we offer." Lohrbach says in June alone, the Gulfport Salvation Army served more than 1,000 people.

Nationwide, the Census Bureau says a quarter of Americans, 25.7%, lived in poverty areas in 2010. That’s up from 18.1 percent in the year 2000.

Mississippi State University agricultural economist Steve Turner notes, the country went through two economic downturns during that time, in the early 2000’s and then again in 2008.

"The downturn we saw in 2008, precipitated by the housing market crashing, that had repercussions here, in the U.S. and around the world," he says. "So that was the big one. And we're still slowly recovering from that 2008-2009 downturn."

Turner adds the shift to less labor-intensive crops, such as corn and soybeans, has also meant fewer jobs.

In addition to the Salvation Army and Feed My Sheep, many other agencies who work with the poor in Mississippi say they’re still seeing increases in the number of people needing help. The Mississippi Food Network, for example, currently serves 150,000 people each month. That’s more than double the number of people they served in 2008.

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