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Mississippi population loss potential factors: healthcare and education

The new state flag flies above the Mississippi State Capitol
The new state flag flies above the Mississippi State Capitol(WLBT)
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 7:52 AM CDT
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 28, 2021 at 9:37 PM CDT - Updated April 28 at 9:59 PM on wlbt.com)

JACKSON, Miss. (Great Health Divide) - Several factors were likely at play that contributed to Mississippi’s population loss over the last decade.

But one state lawmakers suggest healthcare and education were two areas where other states were making better investments than Mississippi.

Mississippi Health Advocacy Program Executive Director Roy Mitchell thinks there’s a definite link between healthcare and the state’s population loss.

“If I have to make a life-and-death decision about where I live, meaning can I get health insurance in Mississippi or can I get it in Arkansas? Can I get it in Louisiana? Well, that’s not a hard decision to make,” noted Mitchell. “I’m not trying to dramatize this. These are life-and-death decisions for Mississippians that have pre-existing conditions. We have high incidences of chronic disease in Mississippi.”

Executive Director of the Rural Health Association Ryan Kelly doesn’t think healthcare is a make it or break it ticket for folks leaving the state. And says the state has found ways to address some of its challenges.

“We stand as a national leader still in telehealth in other states still look to Mississippi to find ways that they can improve their telehealth capabilities,” Kelly explained. “And that is better than all the states around Mississippi right now.”

But Mississippi has 16% of its population that’s uninsured compared to Alabama and Arkansas with 11% and Louisiana with 10%. While there are several factors at play, Mitchell says two of those other states have done something Mississippi needs to do to improve coverage and access to care.

“The first step is to expand Medicaid,” added Mitchell. “From an economic standpoint, there’s also studies that indicate that states that have expanded Medicaid have reaped economic benefits as well. As you can imagine, healthier employees are more productive employees. People are more likely to work or go out and seek employment when they’re well. It’s a simple as that. There are studies that support that.”

Then, there’s the issue of education funding.

“Other states are investing more in schools and what we’ve noticed is that the trend is that when you invest more in schools, your state tends to attract businesses that come in,” said Mississippi Association of Educators President Erica Jones.

Teachers in Mississippi will get a small bump in pay starting in July because of a bill passed by the legislature in the 2021 legislative session and signed by the Governor. $1,000 for teachers and $1,100 for those just starting out.

“Our surrounding states year after year they continue to include a pay raise in their legislation,” said Jones.

But Jones says the Southeastern average is a continuously moving target.

“That ranges from year to year because all of the states around us keep going up but we see numbers anywhere from $5000-$10,000,” added Jones. “I’ve heard stories of educators driving to Louisiana to make $10,000 more, driving to Tennessee to make $10,000 more. And when you think about the first year educator, that’s important. They want to be able to support their family. I don’t want to have to work two and three jobs just to supplement their income.”

Jones says while teacher pay has to increase more, it’s not enough. She says the state has to start investing more in schools as a whole with everything from technology to community support and wrap around services.

A look at educationdata.org shows Mississippi’s per pupil spending is less than all Southern states, as well.

Something to note: both education funding and healthcare are issues the people of the state have found important and sought to fix void of legislative action.

In 2015, Initiative 42 was on the ballot in an attempt to get the state to fully fund the adequate education program or MAEP. Now, paperwork’s been filed to get Medicaid expansion on next year’s ballot.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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