Jackson City Hall

Mississippi’s two largest cities are among the neediest cities in the country, a recent WalletHub study says.

The study looks at more than 180 of the most populated U.S. cities. Jackson is ranked No. 5 for neediness after Detroit, Newark, Memphis and Cleveland, OH. Neediness is defined by high levels economic disadvantage, according to the study released Wednesday.

The study, which has been conducted since 2014, looked heavily at aspects such as child and adult poverty rates, homelessness, uninsured rates and food insecurity.

The cities were graded on a 100 point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest level of economic disadvantage. The study only looked at the city proper and excluded cities in each surrounding metro area.

Jackson received a total score of 53.58. In recent years, the capital city’s score has fluctuated. In 2016, Jackson ranked seventh, improving from its number six spot out of 150 in 2015. In 2014, Jackson ranked 2nd out of 150.

This year, the sample was expanded and Gulfport was included on the list. Gulfport received a total score 52.19, placing it at number eleven.

WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzalez said food insecurity and debt management are two of the more pressing problems currently among low-income Mississippi families.

Gonzalez said recent factors as to why these two Mississippi cities ended up toward the top of this year’s list include the study’s ‘Share of Delinquent Debtors’ category, where Jackson ranked second at over 12 percent and Gulfport ranked sixth at over 9 percent.

Also weighing in heavily was ‘Food Insecurity Rate’ where Jackson ranked 10th, and Gulfport ranked 16th, at 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, said other factors that likely contributed to Jackson’s score this year include a diminishing tax base, or wealthier people moving out of the city, and city properties either becoming abandoned or state-owned, which affects necessary city services.

“As far as the need, I can point to the fact that Jackson in particular gets the largest percentage of people returning from prison, who need a place to live and a job. It’s hard to get one, which puts them in the category of being hungry and homeless. The opportunity seems to be better in city than in the rural areas, but it’s still very difficult,” Orlansky said.

Orlansky also said that Jackson’s relatively small size might play a role in making its numbers look grim. While the number of vacant properties appears to grow every year, so are efforts to repurpose them, she said.

However, government officials should also take notice of scores like these, she said.

“It’s important for the state government to recognize the capital city needs its attention, as the tax base is waning, the city is still very important to maintain,” she said. “They need to take care of the people lacking resources and need to be productive.”

“All this has been going on for several years,” Orlansky said. “The infrastructure in Jackson continues to get worse and worse.”

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