Across Mississippi, there are two challenges (aside from inflation) which I hear about the most. The first is the lack of good workers and coworkers in the economy. Businesses are struggling to find good employees, meaning the good employees they already have are forced to carry an extra load. The second problem I hear about is crime.
Data suggest Mississippians are right to be concerned about these things. When it comes to the labor force, our state has a smaller percentage of adults who are working or looking for work than every state except West Virginia. That number, called the labor force participation rate, hovers around 55% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We need more of our adults in the work force, pulling alongside the people who already bust their tails for a living.
Mississippians’ concerns about crime are well-founded, too. The CDC says Mississippi has the highest number of per capita deaths due to homicide of any state. Our capital, Jackson, had the highest number of per capita homicides of any major city in the United States last year. Someone argued to me not long ago that our per capita crime numbers were high simply because we had a low population. Not quite. Other states like West Virginia and Iowa have small populations but have better per capita crime numbers.
What do these two issues—labor force participation and crime—have to do with one another? First, they cost taxpayers a lot of money. That’s my concern as State Auditor. Fewer adults in the labor force mean our businesses will struggle. We will have less economic activity and less tax revenue to fund roads, schools, and police as a result.
Crimes cost us, too. My office estimates each new homicide costs taxpayers between $900k and $1.2 million. Those costs come from the expense of investigating and cleaning the crime scene, treating the victim if they need care before they pass away, prosecuting the defendant, and then imprisoning the guilty.
Here’s something else these two issues have in common: they have fundamental causes rooted in the dissolution of families and the lack of fathers in the home. Social science backs that up. If you grow up in a home without the added discipline that comes from two parents, your economic fortunes are bleaker and the likelihood that you’ll be in prison is higher. Strong families have an easier time teaching discipline, providing structure, and imparting all the soft skills that prepare one to be a good contributor to society. Parents can also provide the role modeling necessary to keep kids away from destructive peers. Parents must raise their children so the streets don’t.
So if these problems are so fundamental and often go back to the family, what can be done to address them? The answer for the Left is often, “Give people more stuff.” That won’t help. History is full of stories of the failure of government giveaways. We also know that this kind of insane spending has fueled inflation, which hurts—not helps—working families.
There are potential solutions, though. I’ll mention two that I’ve seen. The first is the JROTC program—the junior military program—at Jackson Public Schools. It’s a small program that has achieved big results. Former military service members run it. They take a group of students—often students from troubled homes—and teach them discipline, military history, and basic life skills. The program graduates have a 100% high school graduation rate, a 95% college acceptance rate, and nearly perfect school attendance. That’s amazing compared to the general population of Jackson Public Schools. And as an Auditor, I love the fact that those results are audited regularly by a team from Fort Knox, Kentucky. JROTCs should be expanded.
Another great program is the “career coach” initiative in high schools in Alcorn County, Jackson County, and a few other places. Those coaches, which often come from outside the school system, find high schoolers and show them firsthand careers that can change their lives. I’ve heard stories from the best coaches who effectively become parents outside the home for their students, providing clothes for an interview or instructions on how to introduce yourself in a room.
These are not perfect solutions, but they get at the more fundamental causes driving two of Mississippi’s biggest challenges. We need more ideas like this on the table. We should do more to send the message that parents must step up. Churches and community organizations need to get involved, too. And together, our state can achieve its highest potential.
Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi
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