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PHIL HARDWICK: Are Mississippians stuck or mobile?

Phil Hardwick-hs_rgbJust over 75 percent of all Mississippi residents were born in Mississippi. That is the sixth-highest percentage in the United States. That number reveals some good things and some not-so-good-things about the Magnolia State.

One obvious good thing about that number is that it indicates that residents are apparently satisfied with living here. Even though the state is rural there are urban areas just a few hours drive away where one can enjoy the amenities offered by larger cities such as New Orleans, Memphis and Jackson. And, of course, the beaches of south Alabama and northwest Florida offer wonderful family vacation experiences. And although the summer months can be brutally hot and humid, the climate overall is a plus. For example, the state’s 189 golf courses offer practically year-round golfing. Thus, one of the things people like about Mississippi is its location.

Residents also like the quality of life that a rural state like Mississippi offers with its small towns, open spaces and friendly people who know each other. It is easy to find connections with friends and relatives in Mississippi. Indeed, two of the initial questions that Mississippians ask when they first meet each other is “Where are you from?” and “Do you know?” Although most residents were born in Mississippi, there is a growing number of retirees who find the state to be an attractive place to live. There is even a state program for towns that desire to market their places as retirement communities and receive certification as such. Many workers who have been transferred to Mississippi because of their jobs decide to retire in their new home state.

The list could go on, but those are things that most respondents say are the reasons most residents stay in Mississippi. Now for some of the less desirable factors people list about the above percentage.

Because so many people know each other in Mississippi it is often difficult for outsiders to feel welcome when they move to the state or even another town in the state. The adage about one needing to be at least a member of the third generation of a family to say that they are “from here” has a ring of truth to many people. Some communities simply could do a better job of welcoming outsiders.

Some also say that because so many residents were born in Mississippi that they do not have a natural curiosity to travel and explore the world. Some of that surely has to do with the fact that Mississippi is also one of the poorest states. After all, it’s difficult to travel if one cannot afford it. These factors also help explain why Mississippi has the lowest per capita passport holder rate of any state. New ideas seem to arrive in Mississippi after gaining traction in other states.

Richard Florida, senior editor of The Atlantic and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” has stated that there are basically two types of economic classes in the United States. They are The Stuck and The Mobile. In an article in the Nov. 28, 2011 edition of The Atlantic — Cities, he writes:

The mobile possess the resources and the inclination to seek out and move to locations where they pursue economic opportunity. Too many Americans are stuck in places with limited resources and opportunities. This geography of the stuck and mobile is a key axis of cleavage in the United States. States that have a high percentage of residents who are native born are in the Stuck class.

The reasons for being stuck are somewhat complex. Some choose to be “stuck” because of the reasons listed above. Others are trapped by poverty or other reasons. Whatever the case, it appears that the states with a high percentage native born population in 2010 were also the same states 20 years ago. Consider this list of states and their percentage of residents born in their current state:



STATE                                               2010                   1990


Louisiana                                        78.8                       79.0

Michigan                                         76.6                       74.9

Ohio                                                  75.1                        74.1

Pennsylvania                                  74.0                       80.2

Wisconsin                                       72.1                        76.4

Mississippi                                      71.9                        77.3

Iowa                                                  71.7                        77.6

West Virginia                                 71.1                        77.3

Kentucky                                          70.3                       77.4

Alabama                                          70.0                       75.9


The top five states with the highest mobility, i.e. the states with the lowest percentage of residents born in their current state are as follows:


STATE% (2010)

Nevada          24.3

Florida          35.2

D.C.                37.3

Arizona         37.7

Alaska           39.0


These percentages also help explain the customs, societal and economic norms of these states. They also aid in explaining the growing political divide in the United States.


» Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Pease contact Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com.


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