Too many Mississippi politicians focus on the wrong kind of migration.
A recent column by Sid Salter exposes their over emphasis on illegal immigration. “Is Mississippi being swamped by undocumented immigrants ‘stealing our jobs?’ In a word, no. Only 1.6% of Mississippi’s population is comprised of undocumented immigrants – around 20,000 people among three million.”
The truly critical migration issue for Mississippi is out-migration.
The 2020 Census showed Mississippi lost population from 2010, one of only three states to do so. That trend continued in 2021.
“Population in 17 states declined last year, including Illinois, Mississippi, and West Virginia – the same three states that lost residents during the 2010-20 decade,” revealed a report from PEW Charitable Trusts. Notably, all states bordering Mississippi except Louisiana continued to show population increases.
Mississippi was one of four states whose population losses resulted from two trends: 1) more people moved out than in; and 2) more people died than were born.
State Auditor Shad White recently issued a report that touches on one significant factor contributing to Mississippi out-migration – brain drain. His report noted that only 50% of Mississippi students who graduate from our public universities choose to work in the state three years after leaving college. And two-thirds of those who stayed were employed in just 10 of Mississippi's 82 counties.
Calling Mississippi’s brain drain situation “particularly bad,” Mississippi Today’s article on White’s study said, “This can lead to economic stagnation, such as not having enough people to fill crucial jobs like teaching and nursing, not generating or creating businesses that create the kinds of cities that attract more people to the state.”
But bright, young people are not the only ones abandoning Mississippi. Census data showed half of the state’s counties losing population last year; from 2010 to 2020 two-thirds of our counties lost population.
The Governor and many other state politicians see high taxes as the problem. But low-wage jobs and lack of economic opportunity in much of the state are the real culprits. Mississippi has the lowest average wage in the nation and, as White’s study found, few counties provide attractive opportunities for university graduates.
Even the Tax Foundation acknowledges that taxes may have only an indirect impact on out-migration. “People move for many reasons. Sometimes taxes are expressly part of the calculation. Often they play an indirect role by contributing to a broadly favorable economic environment. And sometimes, of course, they play little or no role.”
“Generally, people are moving to areas with better amenities and economic opportunities that residents want," said Anne Cafer, director of the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies. Those amenities include good schools, low crime rates, and access to affordable health care, child care, high speed Internet, and entertainment and shopping venues.
Our federal and state politicians should look beyond immigration and tax cuts to provide communities the tools needed to retain and grow their population. This year’s one-time investments in broadband and local infrastructure were positive. But many communities badly need prolonged investments in schools, health care, child care, and public safety too, plus local tax flexibility.
“Let us not become weary in doing good” – Galatians 6:9.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.