A new study from Loyola University’s Jesuit Social Research Institute reported that the five Gulf South states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — rank the lowest among U.S. states and Washington D.C. on issues like poverty, race relations and immigrant exclusion.
Mississippi ranked 50th. Louisiana trailed at 51st, Texas at 49th, Alabama at 48th and Florida slightly higher than the rest at 41st.
The rankings, published in the JSRI’s quarterly report, JustSouth Index, provide policymakers, employers and residents a better understanding of where the Gulf South stands in terms of social issues.
“Our purposes are to educate the people of this region and to point out how we together can make the kind of changes that promote far greater social justice, equity and inclusion for all of us who live here,” said Fred Kammer, JSRI executive director.
The index includes factors such as average income, health insurance coverage, housing, public school segregation, wage and employment equity and immigrant youth outcomes.
According to the index, the average income of poor households in Mississippi is $9,891 per year, which is less than half of the income needed to meet the federal poverty level. Thirty-five percent of the poor in Mississippi do not have health insurance, and 89 percent are burdened by high housing costs. Both figures are well above the national average.
In terms of exclusion, 23 percent of Mississippi public schools are still segregated, and 31 percent of immigrants have difficulty speaking English.
The index recommends steps to ameliorate conditions of the poor include increasing wages, expanding Medicaid, supplementing federal aid programs for income and housing with state programs, investing more into poor school districts and expanding English-as-a-second- language programs.
The JSRI exists primarily to promote social research and analysis under the paradigm of theological reflection.
The research group also used their findings to develop strategies for improving social conditions in the Gulf South, one of the poorest and most racially disparate regions in the country, according to their website.