Half of the graduates from Mississippi’s public universities move to other states within five years after leaving school.
That was just one of the statistics that reinforces a harsh reality: Mississippi is losing members of the millennials generation faster than all other states.
At an event at Millsaps College on Thursday, which grew out of stories published this summer at mississippitoday.org, Mississippi Today hosted a discussion about how to reverse the trend.
Reasons for the phenomenon known as “brain drain” vary from economics to culture, but the session’s panelists believe Mississippi has tools to not only keep but also attract young people to the state.
“A lot of these debates that we have are about keeping pace with No. 49,” said Rethink Mississippi’s Jake McGraw, referring to the state’s quality-of-life rankings. “If we want to get off the bottom we’ve got to start leap-frogging some people. If we’re number one in problems, we should also be number one in problem-solving.”
Mississippi had a net migration loss in each year from 2010 to 2016, totaling 35,013 people. No other Southeastern state has experienced a net loss in even a single year during that period, according to U.S. Census data.
“We all know people who have been lured away,” Mississippi Today co-editor Dennis Moore said. “We’re educating people and then sending them off because we’re not offering them the environment where they would want to stay.”
The discussion also included Mary Claire Parrish, manager of talent strategy at Mississippi-based telecommunications firm C Spire, and Sereena Henderson, Mississippi Today’s social media coordinator.
One of the largest motivators for young people leaving Mississippi is money, panelists agreed. The median salary for college graduates in Mississippi is $9,000 less than the national median and $7,500 less than the Southern median. For graduate degrees, the pay gap is $15,000 and $12,000, respectively, according to the U.S. Census and Rethink Mississippi.
“What keeps people here is when they feel like they have enough connection in the place and to the people in the place,” said Stephanie Parkinson, an audience member who moved to Mississippi from Pennsylvania. She agreed with McGraw’s point about using the number of problems in Mississippi as a solution for attracting innovators.
“I think that [having problems to solve] is a huge asset in Mississippi. It’s a huge ground for an entrepreneurial role. I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation that you don’t see in other states. That’s a special thing about Mississippi that keeps you here, that really appeals to millennials who want to be that problem-solver and want to be that leader.”
Census data shows the economic standing of young people in Mississippi ranks near the bottom among U.S. residents. However, it’s important to note that the state’s millennials aren’t necessarily faring worse than other Mississippians when drawing a national comparison.
For instance, Mississippi ranks 47th in median income with $24,920 for householders under 25.
Yet it actually has the lowest median income when factoring in all ages ($41,754).
In terms of unemployment in 2016, the state ranked second in the country for 20- to 24-year-old’s with a rate of 14.3 percent.
Mississippi’s rate for all ages, 7.7 percent, is around half as high, but is still the second highest in the U.S.
“To get out of last place Mississippi’s going to have to get creative and support change, support new ideas and support new opportunities or it’s just going to be the same old same old,” said Russell Morrison, a millennial audience member who works in Jackson. “I think as the millennial generation grows and becomes more of the population they’re going to force change. Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case, but hopefully they’ll eventually end this vicious cycle.”