Chickasaw County high schools held graduation exercises late last month.
Graduates took their degrees with a smile and a handshake and marched off into an uncertain future. It's 2010 A.G. --- After Graduation.
And Mississippi itself is part of the cause of that uncertain future.
It’s as obvious as a snake on pool table that high school graduates -- and college graduates for that matter -- are abandoning Mississippi by the thousands. They’re part of a “brain drain” seeking higher quality education, higher paying jobs or more fulfilling lifestyles, among other things.
They’re seeking a better world, and they’re voting with their feet to find it.
How bad is the problem? The U. S. Census Bureau earlier this year released preliminary data showing Mississippi was just one of three U. S. states to lose population over the last 10 years. The last time the state lost population in a 10-year span” 1920, and 1960, according to published reports.
The figures make the problem clear. You’d think the figures would trigger an “all hands on deck” general quarters alarm from state official to solve the problem.
You’d be wrong.
Many of the state’s most powerful officials -- the “movers and shakers” who could get some action -- haven’t moved or shook anything.
Asked by Mississippi Today to respond, two of the state’s three top executives -- Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, declined comment.
Only Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann dared an opinion: “The issues that matter most to Mississippians are apparent: Good schools, affordable healthcare, secure infrastructure and jobs and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.”
These are some of the issues top policymakers ought to be focusing on to keep our young people in state and attract new ones to the state.
It’s understandable, if not forgivable, why they’re not. The median age of the state’s lawmakers is 56. That’s light years and a deep generational chasm away from understanding problems experience by 18-22 year-olds holding a fresh diploma and looking for a bright future.
Bob Segar sang it right: “Sweet 16 turned 31, you get to feeling weary when the work day’s done.” Translated to the brain drain problem, top policymakers are telling the younger generation, in effect: “I’m 56, you’re 18. I got mine, and your sniveling problems don’t concern me a whit.”
We don’t need bright shiny new ideas. This ain’t rocket surgery, folks. Enjoy the laugh from the previous line, then let’s get serious and dust off some of the old standbys as follows:
--Keep teachers in the state by paying them a competitive salary.
--Keep doctors and nurses here by expanding Medicaid.
--Keep roads and water systems functional by keeping engineers and contractors busy maintaining them.
--Use American Rescue Plan Act funds to repair roads and repair or replace bridges in Chickasaw. The federal plan calls for sending each state money to help it upgrade. Mississippi is expected to receive $1.8 billion, according to published reports. The state could spend $12 million or so to each of the state’s 82 counties for road and bridge improvement, and still have some money left over.
--Create a grant program to help preserve rural hospitals, along with private and not for profit hospitals in the state, and assisted living and nursing home facilities in state. Perhaps some of the seed money for the grant could come from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Mississippi’s state leadership and political landscape has created an ideological chasm between older and youngers Mississippians.
Ignoring that problem only makes things worse.
There’s a saying dentists use about the need for regular dental care: “Ignore your teeth, and they’ll go away.”
Translate that saying to the brain drain: “Ignore young Mississippians…” but you can figure out the rest of that saying.
And when they do, where will this state be then?