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Study: Loyola University New Orleans Jesuit Social Research Institute Issues State of Working Mississippi 2016

Loyola press release - September 9, 2016

New report reveals plight of working families in Mississippi; examines current and historical trends; presents finding and recommendations.

A new report issued today 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. “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 today during a press conference, held at 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 at Steps of Action, a Biloxi-based advocacy group striving to advance social justice along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The report and an online media packet 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: State of Working Mississippi 2016

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.

  • The number of persons ages 16 to 24 in the state’s labor force declined by 16.7% between 2000 and 2015, and the number of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 decreased by 9.4%.
  • The number of workers ages 55 and older increased dramatically by 47.4%.
  • The state’s total labor force decreased by nearly 55,000 workers between 2010 and 2016, while the nation’s labor force increased by nearly 4.4 million workers.

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.

  • In 2014 Mississippi spent $8,263 per student compared to the national average of $11,009 per student.
  • In 2015 just 21.8% of Mississippians had a Bachelor’s degree compared to 32.5% nationwide.
  • Mississippi was ranked 49th out of the 50 states for business climate due in part to its lack of an educated workforce.
  • In 2014, Mississippi had the lowest Gross State Product per capita of all states.


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.

  • In 2015 the labor force participation rate for white and African American Mississippians was statistically equal, at 55.8% for white working-age adults and 56.4% for African-American working-age adults.
  • In 2015, the median wage of African American workers was 72% of the median wage for white workers, a gap that has persisted for decades.
  • The median household income for African-American families is just $27,252 per year, which is $21,592 below the median household income for white households.

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.

  • In May 2016, Mississippi still had 18,400 jobs fewer than it had before the Great Recession.
  • Between 2007 and 2015, Mississippi’s manufacturing sector lost 24,000 jobs and the state’s construction industry lost 15,100 jobs during the same period.
  • Fifteen percent of Mississippi workers earn below the poverty wage for the state (10.06 per hour) and Mississippi has the 3rd highest percentage of workers (6.7%) who earn at or below the minimum wage of all 50 states.
  • 53,290 working Mississippi families live in poverty, or 18% of all working families in the state, making Mississippi the state with the highest rate of working poor families in the country.

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.

  • If income inequality had remained at the same level as in 1984, the median household income in Mississippi would have been $14,979 higher per year in 2014, or $50,300 compared to just $35,321.
  • Workers in the lowest wage group (10th decile) have experienced a 6.4% decrease in real wages since 1979, while those in the highest wage group (90th decile) experienced a 24% increase in real wages.
  • In 2015 the median wage in Mississippi was $14.49 per hour, which was still below the pre-Recession level of $14.67 per hour 2007. On the other hand, wages for the highest earners (90th decile) increased from $30.26 in 2007 to $32.10 in 2015.

Compensation for workers in Mississippi has not kept pace with increases in corporate profits or worker productivity.

  • Mississippi’s’ gross state product (GSP) per worker increased cumulatively by 8% between 2000 and 2013 while the cumulative increase in median wage during the same time period was less than 2%.
  • Between 1997 and 2013, the gross operating surplus (a proxy for gross profits) of private companies in Mississippi increased by 93% while total compensation of private-sector employees, includes wage and benefits, increased by only 69%.

“Although this release of the State of Working Mississippi 2016 paints a grim picture of the current state of the economy and disproportionate impacts across racial and class lines, we are not without hope. Each finding is connected to concrete policy and program recommendations,” Donovan said. “While Mississippi lags behind other states, it is well within the power―and the duty―of leaders and citizens in those states to change the current reality for the common good of all of us.”

Without concerted policy changes, the economic struggles of the state and its workers will continue and grow worse, researchers said. 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