Home » OPINION » Columns » BILL CRAWFORD — Is government the problem or part of the answer to rural poverty?

BILL CRAWFORD — Is government the problem or part of the answer to rural poverty?


Rural poverty skyrockets as jobs move away,” read a headline on TheHill.com.  “The number of rural Americans living in poverty has skyrocketed in recent years amidst an economic evolution that has cost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and mining jobs.” 

The problem is twofold, the article says – key employers in rural areas have shut down or moved away and educated young people move away. “Rural America is increasingly inhabited by older and less-skilled, less educated individuals, resulting in a rising poverty rate. In this century so far, there’s been a giant sucking sound coming from each major metropolitan area of the United States as it vacuums talent out of surrounding small towns and rural areas.”
Despite record employment numbers in Mississippi, many of our rural counties fit this description. 
Among the most impacted groups left behind in poor rural communities are black youth. “Mississippi’s black boys are more likely to live in poverty than children in all other racial and ethnic groups,” said a story in Mississippi Today based on reports from the Hope Policy Institute. “Mississippi’s black men are much more likely to encounter the negative effects of poverty and live in communities that are similarly affected by entrenched generational poverty.”
Two Mississippi State University professors and one from The Citadel have the answers. In “Promoting Prosperity in Mississippi” MSU Associate Professors Brandon N. Cline and Claudia R. Williamson with The Citadel professor Russell S. Sobel present a series of essays that reveal how Mississippi can unleash prosperity to make everyone in Mississippi better off.
The book makes the case that decreases in tax and social welfare burdens, fewer regulations and ordinances, fewer financial incentives to attract industry, less occupational licensing, school choice, elimination of Medicaid, ending state-led efforts to reduce obesity, reducing incarceration rates, reforming civil forfeiture laws, eliminating interest rate caps on small-dollar lenders, lifting building codes during disasters and eliminating disaster insurance would make Mississippi prosperous.
“This book illustrates that if Mississippi embraces economic freedom, the state will experience more entrepreneurship, increased business and capital formation, higher labor productivity and wages, and overall economic growth,” the authors wrote in the preface. 
A decade ago, Dr. Marianne Hill, former senior economist with the Center for Policy Research and Planning at Mississippi IHL, published an article entitled “Solving the Poverty Issue in Mississippi.” In it she provided a succinct solution, “The solution to poverty is straightforward, in a sense: economic and social development that penetrates all communities and population groups would reduce poverty to a manageable minimum.”
“Full-time, year-round employment would enable many to escape poverty,” she wrote, though such employment is not available in all communities. She added that “education is basic to well-paid employment” and “social safety nets” such as subsidized health insurance, child care, food stamps, youth mentoring, drug and prison rehabilitation programs “can be effective in preventing or reducing poverty.”
Two perspectives. The economic freedom perspective would de-fund government and get it out of the way to allow those able to prosper to do so on their own. Dr. Hill’s perspective sees a role for government spending to help poor individuals without skills and resources and to help rural communities attract jobs.
Which makes most sense for rural Mississippi?
Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.


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