Article Comment 

Steve Mullen: It takes a village ... of two


Steve Mullen



A new Census report out this week shows that Mississippi remains the poorest state in the nation, which comes as little surprise to anyone, especially those either without a job or cashing a meager paycheck each week. (We''re also the lowest-wage state in the nation.) 


These statistics hit us year after year, and have become like white noise to us. We''re used to being last; the fact that one in five Mississippians lives in poverty isn''t even really news anymore. It might be news if we hit No. 49. (We''re looking in your direction, Kentucky ... help us out for once ...) 


I think such a situation is known as being "mired" in something. 


According to the Census Bureau, 21.2 percent of Mississippians were below the poverty line in 2008. In the First Congressional District (as local as the numbers get for our area) things are a little better -- 19.8 percent. 


I looked further into the numbers for our district, and something stood out. I noticed that among families with both parents in the household, the rate was actually pretty low: 6.4 percent. That''s about half of the overall national rate. Among families with a child under 5, the rate jumps to 10 percent. This is still below the national average. 


But, take dad out of the home, and things get ugly. 


Among families with a female householder and no husband, the poverty rate is 42.7 percent. In those households with a kid under 5, the rate jumps to 49.2 percent. That''s ridiculously high; more than double Mississippi''s already-ridiculously-high statewide average. 


How many people is that? Just in our district, there are nearly 27,500 households run by a single mom with at least one child under 18. We''re talking lots of people, just in north Mississippi. 


So what''s the point? I suppose it could be that moms and dads make their own choices, but the kids end up paying for them. And clearly, it''s a bill many of them can''t afford. Or, it could be that while some say it takes a village to raise a child, most moms and dads, when together, can handle most of the heavy lifting. 




''Jon'' disappears


That is, unless you''re Jon and Kate. These guys are the single mom and the village all rolled into one. Jon and Kate Gosselin are famous for having eight children, milking that oddity for all they could on the cable television show "Jon & Kate Plus Eight," and then divorcing.  


Jon''s out of the picture now, and out of the title of the show, which unabashedly plods on. The TLC network announced Tuesday that the show would be called "Kate Plus Eight" for its new season. (Don''t worry, you''ll still be able to catch Jon in cameos on the show and stay abreast of his every movement in People magazine.) 


Kate''s now what the Census Bureau calls a female householder with no husband. Unlike most of our Mississippi folks, she''ll be fine, though. She has a TV show. And once the novelty of her brood of kids and broken marriage wear off, she''ll have another show ("I think there''s an opportunity for Kate beyond her role as a supermom to explore her other interests," a TLC exec was quoted by The Associated Press as saying). 


Jon will be OK too. I recall reading something recently about a millionaire heiress and a yacht and a clothing line. (I wasn''t paying close attention.) 


Jon and Kate are guilty of making bad choices. Despite the giddiness of people ready to make money off them and their kids, they''re hardly "super" parents, or role models for anyone to emulate. Those who do, do so at their own peril (see Census figures above). 


Like all of us, they''re free to make their own decisions. But their kids are stuck with the bill, and like many of our Mississippi kids, no amount of money can pay it off. 




Steve Mullen is managing editor of The Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected]


Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment Slate commented at 9/30/2009 11:34:00 AM:

More accurately would be to rank the states with the cost of living in each state considered, that's never done of course.


Article Comment Jrsydevl74 commented at 10/1/2009 1:01:00 PM:

I doubt even with COL considered, we'd move much out of the bottom 10, Slate...Mississippi seems fairly resolute about its identity as "poor but pretty". How else do you explain the consistent outflow of the state's best and brightest in search of a living wage? Even over the higher costs of living, I doubt many of Mississippi's 49 closest neighbors have that problem to the extent we do.


Article Comment Steve Mullen commented at 10/1/2009 1:36:00 PM:

Walter, I'm not sure if that county crime data is readily available, without some digging, but I'll look into it. Good idea. There is certainly data on a national or regional level that's gettable.
Someone mentioned the other day that communities with the highest percentage of two-parent homes also have the highest graduation rates etc., I haven't verified that but on its face it sounds reasonable.
I share your hope that one day our leaders come together to move the state forward in a measurable way.


Article Comment Slate commented at 10/2/2009 11:31:00 AM:

COL would make a tremendous difference. $50K in Mississippi goes much further than it does in California, Florida or New England especially when housing costs are included.


Article Comment walter commented at 10/2/2009 2:05:00 PM:

Thank you Steve for your original article and for taking the precious time to read and respond to my comments about it. Having been on the staff of a pretty decent newspaper, myself, I know about deadlines, and do really appreciate your time!

You know, as should everyone else associated with the news, that nothing is more important to any society, region, state or nation than an independent newspaper dedicated to reporting news accurately and submitting editorials and opinion pieces that challenge the public to strive to be its' better self. It gives me great pride to see yourself, Mr. Imes and the rest of his staff at The Dispatch producing, day after day, such a high-quality product. Your articles, editorials and opinions inform and challenge readers. Undoubtedly, The Dispatch is rated at the very top of all newspapers of its' size and for the diverse population that you serve.
I am one of those people who feels very strongly that no problem, great or small, is without a solution. All that is required for resolution is an honest identification of it and assessment of its' ramifications on all of us. Then concerted efforts mustered by all persons genuinely interested in solving the problem, rather than exacerbating it.
From reading The Dispatch, especially your articles and Birney's opinions, I am thoroughly convinced that Columbus, and the Golden Triangle, are blessed to have one of the most significant components already in place to help usher in a brand new, very progressive era for the entire area. You exude an openness and devotion to truth and fair play that is very appealing. While you have a position, you do not hesitate to publish and even highlight opposing positions. That is not only commendable, it is vitally necessary if we hope to overcome past mistakes and give our younger and future generations decent shot at avoiding mistakes we made and the ones made by the generations that preceded us. We owe no less than that to our children and grands.
Forgvie me. I didn't mean to take so much of your time. I'm just excited to be able to communicate directly with someone whom I respect so very much for trying, in your own special way, to make such a positive contribution in the place of my birth!
As to supplemental data, some can be gotten from the State Board of Prisons and Parole. If that is not the exact title of the agency in Jackson, I'm pretty certain that someone within the Office of The Attorney General would be able to provide it. If we could correlate data, there is a great chance that we can identify the root causes of conditions that keep us last in the nation. While we might have to contend with those who short-change themselves, and us, by thinking that they benefit from the status quo, after identifying root causes, we can overcome them and increase the speed in which we rise to a position of excellence and respect. The growing pains we're currently experiencing will not last forever. I encourage you and The Dispatch to continue your efforts. It is more fruitful than some so close to you are able to realize. Being somewhat removed, I assure you, you're making a very profound and positive difference.


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