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.

  • Otis

    I lived and worked in Seattle for Boeing after graduating from Ole Miss. I loved the Pacific Northwest. That area is extremely open and welcoming of people from different backgrounds. It is the total opposite of Mississippi where anything that looks like a nail is hammered down.

    I came back to take care of my aging parents. I would like to stay, but there honestly isn’t a future here for me, so I will leave again and never return after my parents pass. Mississippi will never change because it doesn’t want to change. Mississippi is a place content with being on the bottom and being a national joke.

  • Kathie Caylor Farrell

    I work for a state university. Giving notice this week and I’m outta here in
    three weeks. Taking my pers with me. So are LOTS of others I know
    about. This state is a sinking ship. After 5 years working for the
    state with outstanding reviews, we all received 1% raise, regardless of
    merit. With the current governor pissing off everyone in sight, we
    won’t get another one for about 5 or more years. So if the rest of the country gets an annual 3% cost of living wage, I should be making 15% more than I was 5 years ago. Instead, I’m making 14% less. Not to mention that we are working WAY too hard because we have had to make up the slack for others who have left and the state absorbed their wages rather than replacing them or even spreading it around a little. So in 10 years, I’ll be making 30% less if I stay here. Would you? Would you want your kids to stay here? Nope. Taking my degree and
    my skills to a state who will pay me a living wage and offer healthcare
    and an education to my children and grandchildren. Mississippi has
    nothing to offer now. It USED to be the best kept secret, affordable living at the beach, etc, but now you can only look at it. We used to be proud of the hospitality state, but now we live in the hate state. It’s embarrassing. The infrastructure is falling apart while the governor’s mansion gets a makeover. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, but our legislators are more concerned about protecting their precious racist flag and making sure we maintain our god-given right to discriminate against others. I’m sorry, Mississippi. I’m sorry that I have wasted most of my life here. I’m sorry that I defended you in the past. But no more. This Mississippi is not the Mississippi that I grew up in. You know, the one with the beautiful antebellum mansions flanked by majestic oaks adorned with a spanish moss gently waving in the wind overlooking the gulf. I remember growing up, sitting in the shoo-fly, drinking sweet tea and watching the shrimp boats as they brought in their bountiful harvests. We’d have shrimp boils and dress up in our Sunday-best with all the family over for Sunday dinner. We’d go fishing and play baseball and do all of the things that make life wonderful. Our schools were the best in the state and we were proud to call this home. But this Mississippi? Governor Bryant’s Mississippi? It’s ugly, hateful, spiteful, and downright stupid. Philbilly has destroyed it for decades to come. Katrina washed away the beauty, BP destroyed our coastal waters so that you can’t even get wet or risk dying. Can’t eat the seafood or risk dying. Can’t stand up for black people or risk dying. Can’t stand up for gay people, or risk dying. Can’t afford healthcare, risk dying. Can’t drive over a bridge without risking dying. Know what’s dying? My soul is dying. I NEED to leave here before I become complacent and just start accepting these things as if they were normal, as if it’s okay to be mean to people all the while hiding behind my deeply held religious beliefs. What a total crock. I’m GLAD there is a brain drain in this state. That means there is hope for our young people. Hopefully they WILL escape before they are consumed.

    • Farmgirl

      Beautifully said!!!

  • LostInUnderland

    The only way Mississippi can keep people from leaving is to keep them too poor and uneducated to make it past the borders without their car breaking down. Despite all the recent work they have done to make sure that people do not escape, somehow people are still making it out.