Study: Income inequality wider in Mississippi

Biloxi Sun-HeraldNovember 15, 2012 

A report released today that examines income inequality shows the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider in Mississippi than in any other state.

The writers of the report, "Pulling Apart: A State-By-State Analysis of Income Trends," by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, hopes to show lawmakers a need for changed legislation.

The report shows between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, income fell 6 percent for poor households and stagnated for middle income households, growing only 1.2 percent on average.

At the same time, the incomes of the nation's richest households climbed 9 percent, and the very richest -- the top five percent of households -- grew even more, by 14 percent, co-author Elizabeth McNichol said.

The low and middle income households in Mississippi from that time were especially hit hard.

"During this period, income inequality grew more in Mississippi than in any other state in the country," she said. "We found that the incomes of the poorest households in Mississippi plummeted by more than 17 percent between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s."

Since the late 1970s, the incomes of the poorest households in Mississippi grew by only $1,700, while those of the wealthiest climbed by $63,000, she said.

"As state policy makers plan their budgets for next year, they should pursue policies that push back against the trend of rising inequality," McNichol said. "States that narrow -- rather than widen -- income gaps will reap economic benefits in the long run."

Ed Sivak, director of Mississippi Center for Economic Policy, suggests that the state's tax system needs to be more progressive.

He'd like to see an additional tax bracket added to the system for those wage-earners with incomes over $100,000.

"As those at the top are increasingly able to pay a little bit more, we need to make sure that we have a revenue system that is balanced, and gives us the opportunity to invest in the things like good schools and affordable college so that all families have the opportunity to take advantage of these building blocks of success and move up the economic ladder," he said.

The MEPC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to ensure that the needs of low and moderate-income Mississippians are considered in the development and implementation of public policy with the ultimate goal of improving access to economic opportunity.

More than 500,000 Mississippians of prime working age have only a high school diploma or less, he said. "They're often not going to have the skills that can be monetized to move up the economic ladder," he said.

Sivak said the state must start working more diligently to build and fund career pathways that will provide job training for low-income, low-skill workers for careers that are in demand and that pay good wages.

"Community colleges are at the forefront of this effort and we need to make sure that they have the resources to connect people to these opportunities and ultimately to long-term and gainful employment," he said.

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