The tale of two Mississippis persists.
One Mississippi is made up of people comfortable with their way of life. Some are well off and more than comfortable. But, for others, their hard-earned finances along with faith, family, and friends make their lives good enough. For the most part, this group might like a tax cut, but surefire oppose tax hikes. They lean heavily toward the taxed-enough-already political philosophy.
The other Mississippi is made up of people struggling to get by, people depending on others to get by, and lost people ranging from the homeless to chronic criminals. Taxes don’t matter much to this needy group, but, for many, opportunity does. They lean heavily toward the spend-more-for-us political philosophy.
While the comfy Mississippi dominates politics today, the needy Mississippi dominates demographic trends.
Since 2009, the percentage of low-wage jobs not improved, holding steady around 37%. Educational attainment rates of high school through university graduates showed no improvement. The percentage of Mississippi children living in single family households continued to worsen, now 48%. The rate of births to unwed mothers held steady at 55%. The percentage of low-income Mississippians qualifying for SNAP (food stamps) grew 49.5%.
If these and other trends hold, it won’t be long before needy Mississippians outnumber comfy Mississippians. Not only does that bode ill for the state, it portends big problems for Republican politicians.
While it may be popular to cater to the comfy crowd, Republicans should realize their need to provide opportunities for more needy Mississippians to rise to a higher standard of living. Only Gov. Phil Bryant among Republican leaders seems to grasp this.
Bryant’s “Education Works” agenda called for more emphasis and new spending on early childhood education. It also established a “third grade gate,” modeled on a successful Florida initiative, that halts social promotion of third graders unable to read at grade level. Two promising initiatives, both greatly underfunded by the Republican controlled legislature.
Bryant’s “Mississippi Works” agenda emphasized workforce training and helping Mississippians get jobs. His business-supported proposal to put $50 million into strategic workforce training initiatives was killed at the last minute by legislative leadership.
Bryant’s proposal to provide an earned-income-tax-credit to benefit low-wage workers got nowhere in the legislature.
Low-wage workers are the most likely group of needy Mississippians for Republicans to target. They are already working hard and trying to improve. To really lift them up, a bold Bryant might consider a proposal to phase-in a decent state minimum wage alongside a major business tax cut. Conservative Arkansas voters passed their $9 minimum wage phase-in initiative overwhelmingly.
Proposals by Bryant to lift up needy, hard-working Mississippians provide a reasonable, forward-looking agenda. Comfy-oriented Republicans should get on board. If simply putting more money into education and existing programs was the solution, our two Mississippis would already be trending toward each other.