McCOMB — The 2020 U.S. census numbers came out last week, and Mississippi was one of just three states that lost population during the past decade.
The entire country’s population growth during the 2010s was a low 7%, just above the rate recorded during the Great Depression in the 1930s. So we should keep that in mind when grumbling about the Mississippi numbers.
But we do need to grumble. Every other state in the South added population during the past decade. Arkansas added 96,000 people while Mississippi lost 6,000. For the first time, Arkansas has more people than we do. Sheesh!
I suspect that some people in the state will use the census numbers to justify dramatic policy changes. They will say we should be more like Texas and Florida, which continue to grow rapidly while Mississippi stagnates.
The growth of those states is admirable, but Mississippi does not need to be like them.
If you want to get a taste of Texas, visit Houston, Dallas or San Antonio. I am most familiar with Houston because my oldest son lives there. He just bought a 1,800- square-foot town house. It cost twice the actual value of my 2,400-square-foot home in McComb. Less house, more money? Pass.
As for Florida, I’m sure the home value story is similar, but right now I am more fascinated by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is from the Panhandle county where my brother lives. This guy somehow thought it was funny to show nude pictures of his sexual conquests on the floor of the House. Can you imagine one of our congressmen doing that?
It is not fair to compare Mississippi to those states. Texas has oil and Florida has beaches. We have some of each but not nearly as much.
There is another Southern state that is a much better comparison for Mississippi. Our leaders ought to study this state closely to see why it has been growing so much more rapidly than we have.
It is South Carolina.
When writing an editorial about the new census figures, I remembered something I wrote a while back about South Carolina. The most important thing is that, like Mississippi, it’s a relatively small state. But unlike Mississippi, it has been growing like gangbusters for years.
In 1970, the two states were similar-sized. Mississippi had 2.21 million people, South Carolina 2.58 million — a difference of about 370,000.
Since the 1970 census, Mississippi has added 744,000 people. Over 50 years, the state’s population has increased by 33%.
But South Carolina’s population has nearly doubled since 1970. The state has added 2.52 million residents since then, up 97%. Which is triple Mississippi’s gain.
The 2020 census says 5.11 million people live in South Carolina. Only 2.96 million live in Mississippi. Sheesh!
What could account for this? Searching the internet, I found stories reporting that a lot of people are moving to South Carolina from other states. There are few specifics on exactly what’s drawing these people in. But it doesn’t seem to be a tax issue.
Texas and Florida famously do not have an income tax. But South Carolina’s income taxes are higher than Mississippi’s. The state revenue department’s website says taxpayers, whether single or married, pay between 3% and 6% on the first $15,400 of revenue. Everything above that is taxed at 7%.
Mississippi’s income tax rates of 4% and 5% are clearly a better deal.
The two states’ sales taxes are comparable. Mississippi’s is 7% and South Carolina’s is 6%, although a county in South Carolina can raise the tax to 7% if voters approve.
These two figures indicate South Carolina is not a low-tax state. Yet people are still moving there. This undercuts the talk about how eliminating the Mississippi income tax would get the state growing.
Here are three other points: Like Mississippi, South Carolina does not have a Houston or a Miami. This makes comparisons between the two states more useful.
Mississippi’s per capita income trails South Carolina’s, but the gap has remained relatively steady for 50 years. Mississippi’s 2020 figure of $41,745 is 88% of South Carolina’s $47,502.
Finally, since things often come down to race, a 2021 estimate puts Mississippi’s Black population at 39%, while South Carolina’s is 27%.
Lots of Mississippi leaders have a bad case of Texas Envy or Florida Envy. Not me. I’ve got South Carolina Envy. We used to be just like them, and now we’re not.
They have beaten us, and we must find out how and then copy some of their strategies.
Jack Ryan is editor and publisher of The Enterprise-Journal in McComb.