Happy hour series takes on state’s brain drain

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The Mississippi Humanities Council and Rethink Mississippi are hosting a three-part happy hour series Tuesday, hoping to generate conversation around why young people leave Mississippi.

Between 2010 and 2015, Mississippi’s population only grew by an estimated 25,000 people or 0.8 percent. According to a study done by the University of Wisconson-Madison, people between the ages of 25 and 34 are by far the most likely to leave the state.

The panel, being held at 5:30 p.m. at Hal and Mal’s Restaurant, will be moderated by Jake McGraw of Rethink Mississippi, a policy analysis and advocacy website. The panel will feature City of Jackson Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr., Tim Mask, co-founder of the Mississippi Brain Drain Commission, and others who will share their stories about decisions to stay in Mississippi despite pressures to move elsewhere.

Jake McGraw

Rethink Mississippi

Jake McGraw

“Every year we have had a net loss in population,” McGraw said pointing to Census reports for the last five years. “It’s a popular thought that we are doing similarly bad to other states in our area.

However, he noted, “Mississippi is turning away a lot of people, and the facts show that it’s not that we are doing similarly bad to states like say Alabama. Mississippi is the outlier in this situation.”

Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama all had major increases in their population.

McGraw spoke of Mississippi’s migration problem in terms of critical mass: “For every person that leaves, it is that much easier for the next person to leave. What we need is a critical mass of people committed to staying and improving the state.”

A similar sentiment was espoused by Gov. Phil Bryant in February when speaking at an event honoring community college and university students for their academic success. “Stay here. Grow where you’re planted,” Bryant said. “Mississippi needs you here.”

McGraw agreed for the most part, but said, “I guess to work within his metaphor that doesn’t work unless you receive the water and sunshine you need to grow.

“People absolutely say they want to stay in Mississippi, but they may not have the opportunity,” McGraw said. “For people of color or if you’re LGBT, there are serious consequences … they are being actively pushed out by Mississippi.”

As for Tuesday’s panel, McGraw said he hopes that there is just enough structure to give people solid information but the conversation is open enough for people to share their stories.

Later panels will be held on July 19 and August 16 respectively.