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

September 30, 2009 9:40:00 AM

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


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.