The state of Mississippi ranks in the bottom 5th of several critical categories in the nation. These categories, which generally comprise of life indicators, include health care, education attainment, infant mortality rates, quality of housing and wages to name a few. According to the 2001 census, Mississippi has the third highest poverty rate, (18% and rising); the third lowest median household income ($31,955); the highest percentage of citizens receiving government assistance (25%); and the fourth highest rate of impoverished families with a female head. Seventy-two point five births per 1000 are born to teens 15-19 years of age. Twenty-six percent of Mississippians over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma.
More recent statistics, (2006), indicate that only 60% of Mississippi youth complete high school.
Quality of life indicators for the rural non-metro areas of Mississippi are even worse. Mississippi has a population of over two million people of which 64% live in rural non-metro areas. South central Mississippi (Simpson, Rankin, Covington, Jefferson Davis, and Copiah counties), with a population of over 200,000, has a poverty rate of 31%.
High non-metro poverty rates for children, under five years, range from 34% to 42% in the combined states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The poverty rate among people of African descent of the region is particularly high. Fifty-two percent of African-Americans fall below the poverty guidelines.
Generally, among all family types, combined poverty rates are between six and nine percent higher in non-metro areas of the region than in the metro areas.1
Two real obstacles to reaching the rural poor are distance and population density. Most rural towns have less than 2,500 residents. However, the small tax base does not provide enough resources for the counties or towns to provide adequate services to significantly impact quality of life indicators. On the other hand, the population and its income levels cannot support private for-profit services.
To fill this void, small Christian organizations are emerging that can provide quality services to defined geographical areas. These grassroots, or community-based, organizations have first-hand knowledge about the communities and their particular needs. In fact, they are birthed as responses to felt needs. However, because of the limitations faced by the organizations, the actual number of people they serve is relatively small as compared to a similar urban organization. Each organization therefore, faces a real challenge of attracting resources because most foundations or major donors are not interested in making contributions to small organizations. Additionally, because of the “grass-root” nature of the organizations, they may not have the “know-how” and expertise to identify and solicit major funding sources. In other words, the attribute (grass-root), that makes the organizations ideal for providing services and ministering to the community is the same attribute that prohibits them from attracting resources.
1Mississippi QuickFacts from U.S. Census Bureau, (2000, 2001),