By the Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
The figures released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau from its 2009 American Community Survey give us multiple angles from which to view the poverty of the five states of the Gulf South. If we just look at the overall numbers of people living below “the poverty line”—a measure considered too low by many experts—we see figures1 reflected in this table with the overall U.S. and regional numbers.
On this simple measure of the percentage of the population living in poverty, Mississippi has the highest percentage in the nation, as has been the case for a number of years. The national poverty rate, at 14.3 percent, is the highest it has been since 1994, reflecting the “great recession” of the past several years.
If we consider the future of the region, however, one of the most significant factors is the poverty of its children. Child poverty has an impact that usually carries throughout the life of the person who is poor as a child, manifesting itself in continuing health problems as an adult. In addition, early childhood poverty is “often correlated with fewer years of completed schooling.”2 When looking at child poverty, several different views also are helpful. The first is the poverty of all children under 18; a second is the poverty of children under five, a group more deeply affected by their poverty; and a third, important in the South and elsewhere, is rural child poverty, which is more acute than in suburban or central city areas. Table 23 below reflects three sets of child poverty views.