90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, January 27, 2014

Women And Children Most At Risk In Mississippi

Shae Hill holds her daughter Fredderio, 3 months, inside a store May 7, 2009 in Glendora, Mississippi. The highly impoverished rural town has very few jobs and no public transportation. The recession has hit many Americans hard, but the rural Lower Mississippi Delta region has had some of the nation's worst poverty for decades. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Shae Hill holds her 3-month-old daughter inside a store May 7, 2009 in Glendora, Mississippi, a highly impoverished town in the rural Lower Mississippi Delta region. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty,” Mississippi remains the poorest state in the nation.

Most advocates and economists say Johnson’s social programs such as Head Start and child care subsidies have made huge differences in the state and across the country, yet they’re not reaching most in need.

Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the situation in Mississippi, as well as the underlying issues.

Interview Highlights: Carol Burnett

On the demographics of Mississippi’s impoverished residents

“Mississippi’s poor children are concentrated in single-mother households; 76 percent of Mississippi’s poor children live with a single mom. And those are moms that are working. … Even though they have the same graduation rates or better graduation rates as men, they’re still earning less than men in every professional level, in every job sector, and they’re concentrated in low-wage work. Eight out of 10 low-wage earners in Mississippi are women.”

On the impact of the ‘War on Poverty’ 

“The War on Poverty made a hugely positive difference on the state of Mississippi. When you remember what life was like in the state in 1965, there’s no question that we’ve moved forward, that we’ve made progress on issues of race, we’ve made progress in anti-poverty programs. There are some new anti-poverty programs that Mississippi has benefited from that weren’t part of the War on Poverty. But we still have a very long way to go.”

On creating effective anti-poverty programs

“With the poverty programs, too many times we have policies that are created based on myths. One big example of that is the myth that the poor are not working. In fact, we’ve seen – I’ve seen in my work – that low income parents are working. It’s just their work isn’t paying enough to help them meet their family’s basic needs and create opportunities that allow them to climb out of poverty.”

“Education is important. All of the research shows that the higher level of education you have, the less likely it will be that you will be in poverty. And that is a very important strategy also for moving families out of poverty. It’s important that women who are these single moms have access to education. It’s important that they have access to job training — that’s going to move them into jobs that pay higher wages. What we need to do is remember that for these anti-poverty programs, they can’t only be some punitive, work-only approach, they have to also allow for education.”

Guest

  • Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson used his State of the Union address to put an end - or vow to put an end - to poverty and unemployment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED ADDRESS)

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: And this administration, today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

HOBSON: To that end, the government established many social programs to give low-income Americans a helping hand. Well, today, more than 46 million Americans still live below the poverty line, with the poorest states almost entirely in the South. Mississippi was the poorest state back in 1964 just as it is today. So we decided to check in with Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, who joins me now from Jackson, Mississippi. Carol, welcome to HERE AND NOW.

CAROL BURNETT: Thank you.

HOBSON: Well, why is that? Why is Mississippi, both then and now, the poorest state in the country?

BURNETT: I can give you a review that extremely disproportionate and harmful. Racial inequity is in the poverty statistics. And you look at what I believe to be true, which is that we know how to reduce poverty, but we refused to do so. I think that you have to conclude that racism is at the root of that explanation.

HOBSON: Racism. And that - you that based on your work with people who are in poverty, do you think that's the main reason in Mississippi?

BURNETT: Well, I think that in my work, I've been working on anti-poverty issues in Mississippi with women and children for 30 years. And I think I would have to say that the one program that I think has been most effective in reducing poverty is the Child Care Subsidy Program that helps low-income women pay the cost of child care so that the mom can go to work.

HOBSON: Because in your state, women are the head of the household for many of the families that are in poverty, right? It's not a two-parent household. It's a single mom.

BURNETT: Yes, that's right. In fact, Mississippi's poor children are concentrated in single-mother households. Seventy-six percent of Mississippi's poor children live with a single mom, and those are moms who are working. Those moms are working in jobs even though they have the same graduation rates or better graduation rates as men. They're still earning less than men at every professional level, in every job sector, and they're concentrated in low-wage work. Eight out of the 10 minimum-wage earners in Mississippi are women.

So these are the moms who are raising children and who need child care. And the Child Care Subsidy Program is a hugely beneficial assistance so that it reduces their child-care cost dramatically. If you're a minimum-wage single mom and you have a child, even if you're working full time, your wage still leave you below poverty.

HOBSON: Yeah. We should say the minimum wage in Mississippi is $7.25 an hour, which means that if you are working full time, you're only going to make $15,000 a year.

BURNETT: That's right. And that is below the federally set poverty level for a family of two. And that wage is the wage that a mom has to use to pay the cost of her family basic needs. And so when you get a child care subsidy - I mean, just for that mom. Let's take her as an example. In Mississippi, if she had to buy it by herself, she'd have to pay about $4,000 a year for child care. But if she gets child care assistance through the subsidy program, that cost reduces to about $700 a year. So you see, it makes an enormous difference. It's a huge work support for low-wage earning workers.

HOBSON: Well, what do you think the impact has been of the war on poverty and the safety net that was set up there? Because if you look at the numbers, there are two different sets of numbers that people are looking at. One says, nationally, that the poverty rate has fallen from 19 percent in 1964 to 15 percent in 2012. That's from the Census Bureau. But then some researchers at Columbia said, well, in fact, it has been better than that. That in 1967, it was 26 percent poverty rate down to 16 percent in 2012. But what's your thought on what the war on poverty has done in Mississippi?

BURNETT: I mean, the war on poverty made a hugely positive difference on the state of Mississippi. When you remember what life was like in the state in 1965, there's no question that we've moved forward, that we've made progress on issues of race. We've made progress in anti-poverty programs. There are some new anti-poverty programs that Mississippi benefits from that weren't part of the war on poverty. But we still have a very long way to go.

HOBSON: Well, what are the big obstacles? What would you like to see done now that's not being done that would help, in your view, reduce the poverty rate?

BURNETT: I think that with the poverty programs, you know, too many times, we have policies that are created based on myths. One big example of that is the myth that the poor are not working. In fact, we've seen - I've seen in my work that low-income parents are working. It's just that their work isn't paying enough to help them meet their family's basic needs and create opportunities that allow them to climb out of poverty.

I mean, we have one example of a mom who got the child care subsidy, was working, had children and was going to college, which is an incredibly ambitious set of things to be doing all at one time. She graduated from college and opened her own business. I mean, that's a story that could be replicated many times over of the examples of how a program like the Child Care Subsidy Program is a huge success for families, and yet we have not invested adequately so that enough people who need it can take advantage.

HOBSON: Well - but also, a lot of people look more specifically at education, and that that is the number one way to get people out of poverty. You haven't mentioned that specifically here today, and I wonder why.

BURNETT: Well, education is important. All of the research shows that the higher level of education you have, the less likely it is that you'll be in poverty. And that is a very important strategy also for moving families out of poverty. I just remember, for example, back when we got our 1996 welfare reform program, we forced welfare recipients into work. My organization was offering an adult literacy program at that point. Those adults were forced out of basic literacy classes into the workforce by that welfare reform change.

And at that time, our governor here said that he thought the only thing welfare recipients needed to learn was how to set an alarm clock. So that kind of attitude that's so punitive and based in the myths about who poor people are and what needs to happen to force them to go to work, that is how you get outcomes that don't take you to a strategy that's really effective, and one that's going to address the needs that people really have.

HOBSON: Carol Burnett is executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. Carol, thanks so much for joining us today.

BURNETT: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: And, listeners, you can weigh in, as well. Just go to hereandnow.org and let us know what you think the war on poverty has accomplished 50 years later. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • juanita boutin

    My first job after college in 1969 was teaching in an anti-poverty program in Lowell MA. There was a young woman in the program whose dearest wish was to bea beautician,b ut with children and no money,no way. THe program got her training and she took i t from there . The change in that woman’s life was worth every penny the government spent on that program. I believed that then, and I believe it now. I live in MS. On second thought, I believe it MORE.

    • Jarvis

      If it only still worked like that.

  • Sara

    Thank you for the wonderful interview with Carol Brunette to bring awareness and attention to the challenges of poverty in America. I also appreciated Carol’s comment that racism contributes to poverty. I think if we’re truly going to solve the challenges of poverty or any problem it would help us to ponder this quote by Albert Einstein, “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. You must stand on a higher ground.” I would add another word and line. You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness and heart that created it. You must expand your heart.
    World Unity, Inc. has a powerful vision and message to help eliminate racism. We’ve been dedicated to this project in Boston for the past 20 years – to build a permanent landmark showcasing the following poem: Are you greater than the sun/ that shines on everyone: Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and White/ the sun does not discriminate (c). We’ve started to share our vision with America through a 30 second public service announcement for TV and radio. It can be viewed at our website at: http://www.worldunityinc.org. Thanks again for interviewing Carol and helping the greater community understand the challenges we face to overcome poverty in America.

  • dstensland

    It seems that nobody is willing to even discuss one of the main driving factors of poverty among women and children: having children when the parents can’t afford them. It would take a lot of courage to broach this topic. I’m disappointed in NPR for avoiding the elephant in the room.

  • Protagonist

    …76% of poor children are being raised by single mothers. WHAT? HELLO! Isn’t this the smoking gun that everyone chooses to ignore? I still don’t see the connection
    to racism. Ms. Burnette,quickly points out this as fact, but gives no evidence to back up her claim.Claiming racism at every turn only masks the real problems in America while not analyzing issues in order to create and promote real world solutions. Labeling something racist, when its not, only serves to alleviate one’s own guilt and attempt to put one’s self in a position of empathy, but unfortunately dilutes the real meaning of the word and makes real racism disappear in the shadows of all the hyperboly. Dare I call Ms. Burnette out as a race baiter while doing a tremedous diservice to the very communities she proclaims to want to help.

  • it_disqus

    My grandfathers sitter was a great hard working woman who we paid in cash. We paid in cash because she told us if she made too much she would lose her kids benefits. She also did not marry the father of her third child even though he asked her, “because it would cut her benefits.” There is an economic principle called “unintended consequences” to policies that enable certain behaviors.

    • coffeegirlchatting

      Researched welfare years ago and found out that it was CREATED for SINGLE MOTHERS back then and today. I have spoken to women that told stories of lying about being married or having the kids father around as well as hiding basic electronics like a broken TV and toaster oven scavaged from the dumpster. If these women stated they were going back to school they were reduced benefits or “cut-off”. This system is so outdated and needs to be re-evaluated. Decreasing foodstamps/government benefits associated with welfare is NOT the solution when the program is outdated. Great Post.

  • Jarvis

    What would a government department that depended on the existence of the poor, ever do to get people out of poverty?

  • coffeegirlchatting

    I believe that NO ONE should have the “RIGHT” to tell a woman when and where she can conceive a child BUT it’s plain common sence. I have worked with women of various races and ages that are living BELOW the poverty level YET they are still having babies they know they can’t feed. Some will state it’s GOD’S plan but I have yet to read God’s law encouraging women to have baby after baby expecting the help of the Government and/or local food banks to aid in feeding them. There was a homeless woman sleeping on the street with her 3 year old daughter within a year of being homeless she found a boyfriend whom was also homeless and became pregnant. I describe these women as having one foot near the deep end and the other one on a banana peel.Trust me you if I’m homeless/can’t feed babies I currently have SEX and empty promising sweet talking men is THE LAST thing on my mind. Nothing is more heartbreaking than telling a child that’s hungry there is no food to feed them.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 15 7 Comments

4 Lamb Recipes, Plus Lamb Cooking Tips

With the weather getting warmer, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is thinking lamb. She shares recipes for Middle Eastern-style lamb meatballs and more.

April 15 14 Comments

The Problem With U.S. Tax Policies

Tax expert David Cay Johnston says it's easy to fool the IRS, but there's one catch: "you have to be rich." He says outdated tax policies are hurting the economy.

April 14 4 Comments

Lessons For News Media After Marathon Bombings

We take a look at what the news media got wrong and what can be learned for future breaking news coverage.

April 14 8 Comments

Marathon Bombing Survivor Loses Limbs But Finds New Life

A year after Jeff Bauman lost both legs in the bombing, he and his fiancée are expecting their first child.