Overcoming the Employment Hurdles Reviving Labor Force Participation in Mississippi Struggling Counties.One pressing concern for state leaders in Mississippi is the state’s exceptionally low labor force participation rate, which stands at 54.5%, significantly lower than the national average of 62.6%.
A prevailing political belief suggests that there are numerous able-bodied adults receiving SNAP benefits who could work but are not, thereby contributing to this low participation rate.
Examining Issaquena County Struggles
Let’s take a closer look at Issaquena County, situated just north of Vicksburg in the Mississippi Delta. This county grapples with multiple challenges, including a high poverty rate of 21%, a meager average household income of $17,109, and a consistent population decline. Census data reveals a 40% drop in population from 2000 to 2020, plummeting from 2,258 to 1,338 residents. Indications suggest that this population decline is an ongoing trend shared by many other rural counties.
Abysmal Labor Force Participation
Issaquena County faces a dire situation with a labor force participation rate of less than 30%, a far cry from the state’s rate of 54.5%. In simple terms, the labor force participation rate is calculated by dividing the civilian labor force total by the population aged 16 and above.
According to Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) data from July, the county’s civilian labor force consisted of 320 individuals, out of which 290 were employed, leaving 20 unemployed. Census data further highlights a stark employment rate of 17.6% in the county, in stark contrast to the state’s 52.5% employment rate.
A Sizeable Non-Participating Population
Interestingly, around 900 residents aged 16 and older in Issaquena County do not participate in the labor force. While some may be retirees, age data suggests that the majority fall within the age range of 20 to 60.
SNAP Recipients: Employability and Disabilities
The most recent published data on SNAP recipients in Issaquena County indicates 218 recipients. While some recipients may already be working, a substantial portion are likely unemployed and not actively seeking employment. However, employability is not universal.
Census data reveals that 42.5% of residents in the county have one or more disabilities, a striking contrast to the state’s disability rate of 18.1%. Specifically, there are at least 429 adults in the county with various disabilities, including hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and/or independent living disabilities. Curiously, only 20 adults receive Social Security disability payments.
Another set of data shows that 40.5% of the population aged 25 and older in Issaquena County lacks a high school degree or GED, while an additional 38% have only achieved these educational milestones.
The Challenge Ahead
The population of minimally educated and disabled adults in Issaquena County does not constitute an easily employable workforce. However, if they wish to retain their SNAP benefits, some may be compelled to seek employment. The question arises: where would approximately 100 such residents find suitable job opportunities?
A cursory look at the MDES Job Search tool reveals only 16 job openings within a 25-mile radius of Mayersville, the county seat. Furthermore, most of these positions are in supervisory/managerial or technical roles.
Census data also exposes the limited business landscape, with only 16 county businesses and 12 government agencies employing residents. Of these, just two businesses hire more than 20 people, and a significant number of employed residents are forced to commute over 30 minutes to neighboring counties for work.
The endeavor to put SNAP recipients to work and enhance labor force participation rates, particularly in places like Issaquena County, presents a formidable challenge.
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