Third World Mississippi shows failure of conservative policies


HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Republicans around the country proclaim that conservative remedies, such as repealing "Obamacare," or enacting Paul Ryan's Medicare-warping, tax-slashing budget plan, will solve the nation's health care and economic disparities. However, evidence from Mississippi suggests otherwise.

Mississippi is, by many metrics, an extremely conservative state. In fact, according to Gallup, it is the most conservative state in the union. The governor's and lieutenant governor's offices, as well as both chambers of the state legislature, are controlled by the GOP. Mississippi, according to a report in the Jackson Progressive, has a very regressive income tax, and has one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation.

The state ranks dead last economically, with the lowest per capita income in the country - $30,399 according to the Census Bureau figures for 2008. Compare that to the national per capita income of $40,208. Additionally, as of 2010, 21.9 percent of Mississippi residents lived below the poverty level, and 10.9 percent were unemployed -  much worse than the national rates of about 14 percent and 9 percent respectively.

As the poorest region of the poorest state, the Mississippi Delta illustrates the huge income disparity in the world's richest nation. The Delta is a rural region composed of 17 agricultural counties in the alluvial flood plain of the Mississippi River. The region is historically considered to be one of the most economically and educationally deprived areas of the nation.

The Delta region is the flagship of poverty in the state. According to the U.S. Census, 20 percent of the region's population is on food stamps.
The economic problems of the region have been endemic for quite some time. Even back between 2006 and 2008, while the nation had a 6.8 percent unemployment rate, the Delta held at 12 percent unemployment.

Susan Mayfield-Johnson, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Sustainable Health Outreach at the University of Southern Mississippi, which researches community health in rural Mississippi. Dr. Mayfield-Johnson states that the lack of a viable non-agriculture-based economy in the region has resulted in "stagnant incomes and low-skilled jobs for decades."

The region also experiences significant barriers in education. Only 61.6 percent of adults in the region have a high school diploma, compared to 80.4 percent nationwide. Adults in Mississippi have the highest rate of low literacy in the nation, with 30 percent scoring as "Level 1" on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003. Level 1 literacy is generally defined as less than fifth-grade reading and comprehension skills.

Mississippi also leads the nation in a number of health care problems. It has the highest rate of heart disease and the second highest rate of diabetes in the country.

According to the Mississippi Department of Health, the prevalence of adult diabetes in the state increased by 70 percent between 1994 and 2006. The department also reports that one in three Mississippians suffer from hypertension.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among adults in Mississippi, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, one out of every five adults in the state who die under the age of 65 dies from cardiovascular disease. Its prevalence in the state is 33.6 percent higher than in the U.S. as a whole. In the Delta region it is an astonishing 83.5 percent higher.

ABC News reported this month that the five U.S. counties with the lowest life expectancies for women are in the Mississippi Delta. All five counties have life expectancies for women of less than 74 years, which is lower than the nations of Honduras, Peru or El Salvador.

The study that ABC cited also revealed that the five counties with the lowest life expectancies for men are also in Mississippi, and four of them are in the Delta region. The life expectancies for men in these counties are all under 69 years, lower than countries like Brazil or Latvia.

The lack of health care access in the Mississippi Delta is even more staggering and may be a major factor in the health disparities seen in the state. In fact, the Mississippi Department of Health has designated the region as a health professional shortage area.

According to the Delta Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving health in the region, of the 5,000-plus physicians licensed in the state, only 584 are listed in the 17 Delta counties.

In the entire state there are only 16 diabetes and metabolic specialists, and there is only one in the 17-county Delta region. Of the 12 ophthalmologists in the Delta, only one accepts Medicaid. The state health department offers no chronic disease clinics in the region.

In total, there are 21 hospitals that service the region. The majority of them are small, under 20 beds, and limited in the services they deliver. Three Delta counties - Benton, Carroll and Tunica - have no hospital.

Gov. Haley Barbour's resistance to President Obama's health care reform adds to the region's woes. Barbour claims that the state cannot afford to cover more citizens' health care. "This new law will ultimately force the state to raise taxes, as hundreds of thousands of new people will be added to our Medicaid rolls," Barbour said.

Contrary to the facts, Barbour has claimed, "There's nobody in Mississippi who does not have access to health care." While this is obviously not true (18 percent of the state currently lacks insurance), Barbour has been making the problem worse since he took office in January 2004.

According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Mississippi cut its Medicaid rolls between 2004 and 2008. Barbour has also taken to cutting the health care safety net to balance the state's budget. He reduced the coverage for 65,000 citizens who qualified for a Poverty-Level Aged and Disability (PLAD) program. The state has also begun requiring unprecedented annual in-person interviews for Medicaid.

Mississippi, dominated by conservative politicians, has health care, income and economic disparities that embody the worst of the nation's ills. And the Delta is the most extreme example. Overall, conservatism doesn't seem to be translating into positive results for the Hospitality State.

Photo: A group of boys play baseketball in Tunica, Miss. Tunica, in the Mississippi Delta, is one of the poorest places in the country, and the county is one of three Delta counties that have no hospital. (AP/James Finley)

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  • At least it is not as bad as Chicago! What is the main factor that each of these cities have?

    Posted by joe, 06/25/2014 3:44pm (2 years ago)

  • Well, Ms is going to do bad its rural, so of course its much poorer than even Texas unless its the Rio Grande Region but unlike conservatives or liberals I see some trouble ahead as Texas and California become more Hispanic since Hispanics in both states are a lot poorer than whites on the average. Both the left and right don't address demographics issues California and New York are poorer than Minnesota and Vermont since they have large minority population a failure of Democratic and most of the South has large minority populations and Texas has a large Hispanic population like California but right wing republicans that ignore the demographics Unfortunately both left and right are ignoring the high poverty problems of New York, Texas, California and Florida because of higher than average immigration and high Hispanic populations.

    Posted by cynthia curran, 04/22/2014 2:18pm (2 years ago)

  • Clearly, though, the state's conservatism does translate into a low-tax paradise for the wealthy few. That they trump a balanced budget as the ultimate accomplishment (rather than the health and well-being of their citizens), reveals their depth of contempt for the less fortunate in their state. Americans need to look more closely at this would-be template for what a Republican version of a future America would look like.

    Posted by William Miller, 10/03/2013 8:32pm (2 years ago)

  • As someone who loves where I live in MS I agree with a lot of the things you have said in this article and am not offended..... however, one thing I believe you sadly misrepresented is our lower incomes and the average being around 30,000 dollars. Though this is true, I have been to many areas of the country where people make considerably more but have a lot less because of high costs of living!!!! (I'm looking at you NYC and California!!!!) So the scales mostly tend to balance for those with 30,000 dollars a year although it's been harder with cost of living increases lately. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

    Posted by PANDA, 07/01/2011 9:37am (5 years ago)

  • Here's a guy who knows his business!
    --jim lane in Dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 06/30/2011 5:19pm (5 years ago)

  • Hate to say it, but the Delta region's problems well pre-date GOP control of the state. Admittedly the Dems who ran the south prior to the mid-90's weren't marching in lock-step with national democratic policies, so you could probably argue that they fairly Republican policies for Democrats, but regardless, correlation doesn't imply causation.

    Posted by Grant, 06/28/2011 4:27pm (5 years ago)

  • again, i know you won't publish what i write here, but anyway.
    this is such a skewed perspective. you are judging the whole state on one area, an area that yourself noted is uneducated and non-progressive because of it being agricultural in nature...farms that have been handed down for generations. they have little need for education...they're too busy working.
    as far as the health care, the governor is correct. as i've stated before (comments that weren't published), the Hill-Burton Act provides for indigent care.
    go back and ask Gov. B. why there aren't hospitals in the area! in order for a physician to practice in an area or a hospital to be built, they have to apply for a 'cerfificate of need'. this is based on several factors, such as population, doctor (hospitals, clinics, etc.) per capita for the region, etc. one of the main reasons that more doctors, hospitals, clinics, even specialties aren't given these certificates is that the doctors that are already there don't want there to be competition. they lobby (read: pay) for the certs. to not be given and they keep the area for themselves.
    yes, i know this first hand. its why my mother died. we couldn't get another opinion because the local doctors wouldn't allow competition to move in!
    i'll agree that this is one part of their law that needs to be changed. good luck with that. why would hospitals want there to be a variety from which to choose? greed!
    i'm from Mississippi (now in Dallas). you're taking statistics from one area that skews the states stats because of its unique situations, and applying it as if the whole state were the same.
    nice numbers to back up your article, but numbers don't tell the whole story.

    Posted by Gene, 06/28/2011 3:03pm (5 years ago)

  • @russell-
    As such an astute scholar- you should recognize that until the 60's, Democrats in the south were basically what Republicans are today. Additionally, the few Democrats in office today in the state are almost identical to republicans. Which is why the article cites "Conservative failures."

    @Bill- perhaps Utah does not- but Texas (also wildly conservative) and several of the southern states (conservative) do experience those healthcare, and economic woes.

    Posted by Ryan Ebersole, 06/28/2011 2:43pm (5 years ago)

  • Mississippi was under Democratic Governorship from 1876-1992... this piece is a clear misinformation campaign item, blaming the recent Rupublican Governors, ( both of them since '92 ) for a century of Democrat Mis-Governing! how selective is one's memory when propoganda is the agenda.

    Posted by russell hebert, 06/27/2011 10:11am (5 years ago)

  • As much as I think that conservative policies are bad for our nation, assuming that Mississippi's health care woes are a direct result of those policies is totally wrong.

    If Mississippi is the most conservative state in the nation and also has all of these health care problems like the author illustrated above, if the correlation held, then the second most conservative state (Utah), would also have terrible health problems. But they dont, they're actually super healthy.

    Conservative policies are bad for Mississippi, but they're not the root cause of poverty and health problems in the Delta.

    Posted by bill, 06/27/2011 7:55am (5 years ago)

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