Strategies to Build Economic Security in Mississippi,
Shortcomings of the Official Federal Poverty Measure,
Better Tools to Measure Economic Need in Mississippi,
Improving Lives in Mississippi Using Better Measures,
What Our Partners Are Saying,
Nearly one in three non-elderly Mississippi households struggles to make ends meet. However, the federal poverty measure captures only about half of Mississippians who need assistance. The other half falls through the cracks of our support systems, unable to qualify for many programs. Through Insight Center's Building Economic Security for All (BESA), we work to help all Mississippians achieve a basic level of economic security so they have enough money to not only cover the expenses of everyday life like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, but also enough to begin to develop and/or draw on savings and assets. Savings and assets are what enable people to cover the costs of emergencies, build an economically secure future, and leave poverty behind, for good.
Having been a leader on this issue since 1997, the Insight Center uses a combination of strategies to build economic security in Mississippi. We:
Drawing from our experience leading Californians for Economic Security (CFES), the California effort to build family economic stability, we are currently working with local organizations in Mississippi, including Mississippi Economic Policy Center and the Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Office, to create a diverse, statewide coalition of stakeholders dedicated to the economic stability of all Mississippians called Building Economic Security in Mississippi.
Poverty reduction programs in Mississippi and across the country use outdated measures, the Federal Poverty Thresholds and Federal Poverty Guidelines, to determine who needs and receives assistance for many programs. The Federal Poverty Guidelines are "frozen" at the level of a basket of goods and services adequate for families in the 1950s, and updated only for inflation. They do not reflect rapidly increasing costs, such as health care and taxes or "new" costs such as child care; nor do they reflect local differences in the cost of basic goods and services. As a result, tens of thousands of Mississippians who are not making ends meet do not receive the support they need: the official poverty measure captures only about half of the Mississippi households who need assistance.
Families living in Mississippi pay different amounts for basic household goods depending on where they live and the composition of their household. For example, in lower-cost Carroll County, a family of two adults, one preschooler, and one school age child needs $32,076 a year to cover the cost of basic needs. But in higher-cost Lamar County, that same family needs $45,261 - over $13,000 more a year - to pay for those same household expenses.
Our organizing and advocacy work focuses on what it actually costs to make ends meet in communities across Mississippi, as defined by the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Mississippi (Self-Sufficiency Standard), a measure of the income needed to cover basic needs available for 70 different family types in each of Mississippi's 82 counties.
Unlike the official federal poverty measures, the Self-Sufficiency Standard uses publicly available data sources to quantify the actual costs of meeting the basic needs for working families by county - without public or private assistance.
Service providers, advocates, foundations, educators, and working families are using the Self-Sufficiency Standard to improve lives in Mississippi. They use the tool to:
The Insight Center was one of four leaders that, in 1997, launched the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Project: an innovative, nation-wide effort to gain support for proven practices to help working families reach economic security, using realistic benchmarks of what it takes to make ends meet in today's economy. With partners in 37 states, this work has developed into a national movement to transform the way we measure and address poverty in the United States.