I was back in the Mississippi Delta last week touring Sunflower County (population 31,833) and doing a talk in Ruleville (population 3,234). When you look at the statistics, it is pretty bleak. The poverty rate is 34.3% (8th worst out of 3,141 counties in the USA), they’ve lost 9.4% of their population since 1990 (2,817th) and have only 59.3% of their adults over the age of 25 with a high school diploma (3,046th).
The first two indices are solvable but are directly related to the last one on educational attainment. Digging deeper into the educational shows even more concern. The county has 17% (one out of six) who have less than an eighth grade education (228th in the USA) and 23.7% with some high school but no diploma (42nd).
When I was asked at my talk what is the major obstacle to job creation in Sunflower County, I cited those educational rates telling them that those of us in the site selection business look at statistics like the ones I mentioned to determine whether to keep a community on the list. Unfortunately, Sunflower County’s statistics are so bad that they are rarely going to make it to the next level.
Several groups are working diligently in the Delta to address issues of education, unemployment and poverty. It will be a long, hard journey but there is progress being made. I’ll highlight a couple in the next couple of upcoming blogs.