For social conservatives, it is often said, life begins at conception and ends at birth. If so, nowhere is that more true than in Mississippi. After all, the Magnolia State seems poised to pass Amendment 26, the so-called "personhood" initiative which by defining a fertilized egg as a human being would ban virtually all abortions and inevitably outlaw many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization.
But while Mississippi is focused inside the womb, there seems to be little concern about what happens to its residents outside of it. As the dismal rankings in out-of-wedlock births, poverty, family income, education, health care and almost every other indicator of social dysfunction show, personhood is a painful struggle for the actual persons of Mississippi.
With some of the most draconian abortion restrictions in the nation, Mississippi is now home to only one clinic providing the procedure. But as it turns out, Mississippi is also home to the most depressing statistics for out-of wedlock births in the entire nation. As the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show, Mississippi has the highest percentage of total births to teen mothers (17.1 percent, compared to the national average of 10.5 percent) and unmarried women overall (53.7 percent, compared to 39.7 percent nationally).
Mississippi may not be a Hobbesian dystopia where life is nasty, brutish and short. But as a quick glance at the poverty and income data show, life there isn't easy. The Census Bureau's 2011 Statistical Abstract (which is based on 2008 data), shows poverty and median household income is worst where GOP's laissez-faire crowd finds its strongest support. Financially speaking at least, life is no heaven on earth in America's most religious state.
Of course, Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the Union and has been for some time. According to the 2011 data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, Mississippi ranks first in the number of people living below the poverty line. Unsurprisingly, its 50th ranking median household income of $37,790 is the lowest in America, and over $14,000 below the national figure. Per capita income is similarly dismal. It's with good reason that in 2007, Mississippi ranked fourth in per capital federal aid.
That need for federal funding is especially acute when it comes to one of the Magnolia State's greatest failures: education.
The education of its children provides just one of many heart-breaking stories of failure for the people of Mississippi. At $7,890 per student per year, Mississippi ranks 45th in school funding. (And even that meager figure is only made possible by substantial funding from the federal government.) According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department Education, only 22% of Magnolia State fourth graders read at or above grade level. By eighth grade, the figure falls to 19%. (Only the District of Columbia does worse.) It's no surprise that Mississippi has the lowest mean score on the ACT college admissions test taken by 96% of the state's high school graduates. And as it turns out, only 63% of its children even graduate, less than the national average of 69% (and much lower than the 81% in, for example, that target of right-wing retrograde reform, Wisconsin.)
Continue reading »