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The pros and cons of place

From the Ground Up

There is a statistic that explains a lot about Mississippi. It is not the poverty rate, the average income or the teenage pregnancy rate, although those numbers are very revealing about our society.

The demographic nugget I refer to is the percentage of Mississippi residents who were born in Mississippi. In the 1990 census, that number was 77.3%, which was the fifth-highest percentage in the country.

It will be interesting to see what the 2000 census figure will be. The obvious guess is that it will go down, given the last decade’s growth in population and in types of businesses that bring in new residents. Back in the 1980 census the number stood at 78.6%.

The fact that almost eight of 10 residents were born in Mississippi can be viewed in different ways, depending on one’s perspective. There are positive and negative things about this characteristic of the Magnolia State.

On the positive side, it says that people who were born here like it here. They are choosing to stay here. Some, of course, may feel stuck where they are, but generally in today’s mobile society a person can choose to live just about anywhere.

Another factor on the plus side is that because of this high percentage of native Mississippians, there is a tremendous sense of place. We natives know the nuances of the state. We know the difference between the Delta, the Hills and the Coast. Not only that, we know people all over the state — or we know somebody who knows somebody we know. When two Mississippians meet, the first two questions asked will be: “Where are you from?” and then, “Do you know…?” In less than a minute they will have made a connection. In Mississippi we don’t care about your synonym, antonym and homonym, we want to know about your “Mamanym,” that is, your mama and them.

Not to be ignored is the sense of history that exists in many Mississippians. People can often tell about their ancestors of several generations, and then go to the grave sites or homesites of those predecessors. They feel connected to this place.

On the negative side, this wonderful sense of place that natives have can often make newcomers feel unwelcome. When the newcomer arrives in town and is asked “Where are you from?” and “Do you know…?” there is a risk that a connection won’t be made right away. The newcomer feels that he or she is not going to be immediately accepted as part of the local group. This can be disastrous. According the Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, the most basic human emotional need is to belong to a group. Failing to make newcomers welcome in the community, even if such failure is unintentional, is to fail to meet their emotional needs. This leads to a feeling of isolation and a desire to leave on the part of the newcomer.

Another point on the negative side is that the state sometimes does not get the benefit of new ideas and new ways of looking at things. Non-natives often have more objectivity when it comes to many local issues.

Having said all that, let us turn to another number — four. That’s the number of states that have higher percentages of residents born in their states than Mississippi’s percentage. It might be surprising to learn which states they are.

No. 4 on the list is Kentucky. According to the 1990 census, the Bluegrass State had 77.4% of its residents born in the state. Like Mississippi, that percentage was down slightly from the prior census, when the number was 79.2%.

Third on the list was Iowa, where 77.6% of the residents were born inside its borders. That is the same percentage as the 1980 census.

In second place was Louisiana, where 79% of the Pelican State’s residents in 1990 were born in-state. Interestingly, this percentage was up from the 1980 number, which was 78.1%.

Now to No. 1 on the list. I confess that this one surprised me. I would not have guessed that 80.2% of the residents of Pennsylvania in 1990 had been born in the Keystone State. In 1980, the figure was 81.6%.

Just to complete the record on this subject, it is pointed out that the national average in 1990 was that 61.8% of the population was born in the state of residence. Nevada had the lowest percentage — only 21.8% of its residents were born there. Florida was second from that end of the scale with 30.5% of its residents being born in the Sunshine State. We now anxiously await the 2000 census numbers.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is philhardwick@usa.net.


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