Beginning the fight for change where it is needed most.
The Mississippi River Delta region is our nation’s most fascinating double-sided coin. On one side, it's filled with incredible cultural and historical treasures. On the other side, it faces some of the nation’s most serious problems: high poverty rates, large disparities in health, and large gaps in educational success.
High Poverty Rates
Growing up in The Delta, I always wondered how we were going to save our region. Hearing stories of the former manufacturing plants that would employ our Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Siblings alike, highlights only a fraction of the job opportunities the region has lost over time. Due to racial inequities left behind from slavery, one in five households live in poverty and poverty rates range from 30% to 40% in most counties. In contrast to the national poverty rate of 12%, and despite being home to some of the most fertile farmland in the nation, the huge economic disparities in the region become obvious. Our conversation on race in the region is soon to follow, but in the meantime, turn with me to the health of our people.
Disparities in Health
According to the most recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), (Assessment of Factors Contributing to Health Outcomes in the Eight States of the Mississippi Delta Region, 2016) across all 35 measures (mortality, low birth weight, clinical care, physical environment etc..) the counties in The Delta region were on average 22% worse than the rest of the nation. This speaks to the alarmingly high rates of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure; respiratory diseases, such as asthma; and other health issues like diabetes and obesity. Why is this the case? These health outcomes are the result of several interconnected issues, from limited access to healthcare to the lack of access to fresh produce options. Over the past several decades, healthcare facilities have closed or consolidated due to financial challenges, leading to a shortage in healthcare providers all around – from primary care physicians to specialists and mental health professionals. This has revealed how transportation can be a real barrier in and of itself, when it comes to accessing healthcare. Moreover, the confusing rules and restrictions surrounding Medicaid only contribute to the worsening of the existing health disparities in the region. Turn with me, to the educational success of our students.
Many schools in The Delta struggle with insufficient funding and limited resources. From shortages in qualified personnel to a limited capacity for extracurricular activities, these hurdles often cause schools to fail in properly preparing students for a successful next step, whether that be college, entrepreneurship, or a high-paying career. For example, in 2021, the ACT released performance data indicating that 25% of high school graduates nationwide met benchmarks in all four key areas. In contrast, counties in The Delta region had rates as low as 9.2%. These figures demonstrate that students outside The Delta are more than twice as likely to be college ready. In addition, the region struggles to retain its highest achieving students due to the lack of higher paying opportunities and limited economic development. It's also important to note that there is a lack of up-to-date research on the local public education systems in the region. This is an area we will focus on, as gaining a better understanding of the current situation will help leaders and decision-makers bring effective solutions where they are needed the most.
This article does not end without hope, Americans for Action is proud to spearhead the Gett’n Muddy with The Delta initiative. This is all about strengthening the nation’s understanding of the present barriers residents of The Delta face to bring together decision makers, organizations, and resources from all over to combat these problems head-on. It is our hope that you will join and support us – from supporting our on the ground efforts to partnering with us to get them done. With your help, we will work with communities all over the region in pursuit of the perfection of our union.
Subscribe below to stay tuned for more!
Gennuso, K. P., Jovaag, A., Catlin, B. B., Rodock, M., & Park, H. (2016). Assessment of Factors Contributing to Health Outcomes in the Eight States of the Mississippi Delta Region. Preventing chronic disease, 13, E33. https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd13.150440
ACT. “2021 ACT Achievement Data.” ACT Leadership Blog, 13 Oct. 2021, https://leadershipblog.act.org/2021/10/2021-ACT-Achievement-Data.html#:~:text=Among%20the%202021%20graduating%20class%2C%2025%20percent%20of,a%20one%20percentage%20point%20increase%20over%20last%20year.
Mississippi Department of Education. “Holmes County Central High School.” Mississippi Statewide Accountability System, 2020, https://msrc.mdek12.org/entity?EntityID=2611-010&SchoolYear=2020.
“Poverty-stricken past and present in Mississippi Delta.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 June 2023. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/poverty-stricken-past-present-mississippi-delta.
Delta Region Image: Arkansas State University at Jonesboro
United States Census Bureau. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2021.” Census Bureau, 14 Sept. 2022, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2022/demo/p60-277.html.