“Mississippi Forever”: Mississippi Governor Determined to Stop Youth from Leaving State

By: Georgia | Published: Jan 26, 2024

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves marked the beginning of his second term with a notable theme, “Mississippi Forever.” During his inauguration, he expressed his desire to reverse the trend of young Mississippians leaving the state.

His message was focused on retaining the youth in Mississippi, emphasizing the importance of their presence in the state’s development.

Addressing Mississippi's Youth Exodus

In a statement during his inauguration, Gov. Reeves said, “For too many decades, Mississippi’s most valuable export has not been our cotton or even our culture. It’s been our kids.”

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This quote, reported by The Associated Press during the ceremony, highlights the concern about the ongoing departure of young people from Mississippi, seeking opportunities in other places.

Mississippi's Economy

One reason people choose to leave Mississippi is the low ranking of its economy. US News and World Report ranks states across 71 different metrics like economy, crime, and infrastructure. 

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Mississippi on a US map.

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Mississippi is ranked 48 in overall the rankings. In the economy category, it has a low rank of 49. It has a GDP of $139 billion which is approximately 0.5% of the total US economy.

Education in Mississippi

Mississippi ranks at No. 41 on the US News scorecard for education. Students in Mississippi have $29,714 of debt at graduation, which is higher than the national average.

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The high school graduation rate is 87.7% in the state. Students in the state have an average National Center for Education Statistics (NAEP) math score of 266, which is also below the national average.

Financial Stability in Mississippi

Financial stability is the measure for people to sustain themselves in the state in both the long term and the short term.

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Mississippi ranks at 40 out of all US states. For long-term stability, it ranks at 41 while short-term stability is slightly better at 28. Residents in Mississippi who perceive their financial future as uncertain are more motivated to move away.

Impact of Infrastructure Challenges

When a state has problems with infrastructure, people have trouble getting access to affordable energy and transportation.

A barge moving through a river in Mississippi.

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Without adequate transportation options, residents will have trouble finding work and may have to move to get employment. People may also have problems securing high-speed internet. Mississippi ranks at 47 on US News rankings for infrastructure. 26% of the state’s roads are in poor condition and only 6.6% of its energy usage is renewable.

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Opportunity in Mississippi

U.S. News & World Report also measures states on the perception of opportunity in the state.

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For opportunity, Mississippi ranks at 36. One of the things holding it back is its median household income. The national average for household income is $69,717, which the state falls far short of at $48,716. Mississippi has a poverty rate of 19.4%, which is significantly higher than the national average.

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Affordability is a Silver Lining

While Mississippi ranks at No. 49 in the country for economic opportunities, it is the No. 1 ranked state for affordability according to U.S. News & World Report. It has the lowest cost of living in the country. 

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This means that a resident’s standard monthly costs like food, gas, and housing are exceptionally low. According to the Sun Herald, the average single adult in Mississippi only spends around $2,309 monthly on living costs.

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The Impact of Mississippi Talent Elsewhere

Gov. Reeves observed that Mississippi residents hold influential positions in various sectors including government, business, and entertainment across the country.

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He remarked, “They made other places better, and we missed out on all they could have done here at home.”

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What is Brain Drain?

Brain drain is a concept that describes the tendency for educated or skilled workers to leave the state they were trained for better opportunities elsewhere. This tendency seems to be devastating Mississippi. 

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Mississippi Public Broadcasting suggested brain drain was partly responsible for the 7% population decrease in the state from 2020 to 2022. Without high-skill workers in the area, the local economy suffers from a lack of productivity.

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College Graduates are Leaving Mississippi

According to the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor, college graduates in the state are highly susceptible to the brain drain phenomena. Their report estimates that in the past three years, only half of its college graduates remained in the state to work. 

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One suggestion to solve this problem is to have the government invest in programs that help graduates find jobs locally after they have finished their education.

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Consequence of Population Decline

At the same time that Mississippi is experiencing an exodus of young people, they are struggling with their ability to replace them. Jackson, Mississippi was one of the fastest-shrinking cities in the country between 2021 and 2022.

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The trend mirrors what is happening in many major Mississippi cities. Young people are essential to maintaining a healthy workforce and paying into the tax system.

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Reeve's Focus on State Development

The Independent reports that throughout his campaign for reelection, Gov. Reeves concentrated on key areas such as tax cuts, job creation, reducing unemployment, and improvements in education.

Governor Tate Reeves is pictured speaking animatedly at a podium with the word "Governor" prominently displayed in front. He's wearing a dark blue suit with a red and yellow striped tie. Behind him, to the left, an older man with gray hair is smiling, and to the right, a woman in a red jacket is listening attentively. A young girl is standing next to thewoman. American and state flags are visible in the background

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He positioned his Democratic opponent as being out of touch with Mississippi values and more aligned with out-of-state interests, which resonated with many voters in Mississippi.

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Mississippi Tax Cuts

The state legislature in Mississippi voted to cut $525 million dollars from income tax in 2022. Mississippi Today reported in December 2023 that Governor Reeves is still pushing for further cuts. 

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The two most recent state tax cuts in the state’s history were the largest tax cuts passed in their times. Reeves is keen to enact his own tax cut that will overshadow them tremendously. “We have tax cuts on top of tax cuts,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann commented.

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Gov. Reeves' Political Journey

Before becoming governor, Reeves served in other significant state roles.

Governor Tate Reeves is seated at a desk, dressed in a pinstriped suit with a light blue tie featuring small square patterns. He appears focused as he pens his signature on a document

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The Associated Press details that he had two terms as the state treasurer and another two as the lieutenant governor.

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Reeves' Historic Second Term

Gov. Reeves’ re-election marks a significant milestone as he becomes the fourth governor in Mississippi to secure two consecutive terms since the 1980s, per The Independent.

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This continuation of leadership aligns with the Republican Party’s dominance in the state governorship over the past 20 years.

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The Competitive General Election

ABC News notes that the general election proved to be highly competitive, despite the Republican Party’s control over all statewide offices and both legislative chambers.

Governor Tate Reeves stands in front of a campaign banner with "Governor TATE REEVES" printed in bold letters, surrounded by red, white, and blue balloons. He is addressing multiple reporters holding out microphones

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Gov. Reeves won with nearly 51% of the vote, indicating a closely fought contest in a typically Republican-dominated state.

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Brandon Presley's Stance Against Reeves

According to The Independent, Democrat Brandon Presley, a state utility regulator and second cousin of Elvis Presley, criticized Gov. Reeves for not extending Medicaid to include low-wage workers without health insurance.

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Presley also vowed to address corruption, referring to the misuse of welfare funds for the benefit of the wealthy, rather than aiding the poor in Mississippi.

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Mississippi's Population and Economic Challenges

Mississippi, long recognized as one of the poorest states in the U.S. according to data from the United States Census Bureau, has been grappling with stagnant population growth.

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This issue stands in contrast to neighboring states like Texas and Florida, which have experienced marked population increases.

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Low Birth Rates

One of the reasons for Mississippi’s slow population growth is the declining birth rate. 

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According to the March of Dimes, the fertility rate in the state dropped from 66 per 1,000 women down to 60.7 per 1,000 women in just ten years. Low birth rates are indicative of an aging population, which will present challenges to the state’s economy and well-being in the future.

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Advances in Education Under Reeves' Leadership

During his tenure, Mississippi has seen improvements in its education system, notably in reading scores among fourth graders.

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ABC News details that Gov. Reeves proudly mentioned in this speech, “We are making sure all of Mississippi has momentum.”

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Reeves' Reelection

According to NBC News, Gov. Tate Reeves’ successful bid for a second term was notably supported by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, along with substantial backing from the Republican Governors Association and the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s Candidate Fund.

Governor Tate Reeves is seen standing to the left in a dark suit and red tie, slightly bowing and making a pointing gesture towards former President Donald Trump, who is dressed in a red tie and navy suit, standing beside him at a lectern bearing the Presidential Seal. Behind them, a crowd of supporters wearing red attire, some holding "TATE REEVES Governor" signs, are gathered at a political rally

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The Reeves campaign invested heavily in its strategy, spending almost $10 million on ads, a key factor in securing victory in the GOP-leaning Mississippi.

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The Power of a Trump Endorsement

An endorsement from Donald Trump is a huge get for any Republican in a major race. Reporting by the Washington Post showed that candidates received a huge boost in the primaries from endorsements, though the results are mixed in the general election. .

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Trump hands out hundreds of endorsements during election cycles, though the power of this endorsement has waned compared to what it once was.

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Gov. Reeves' Victory Under Mississippi's New Voting Rules

CNN states that Gov. Tate Reeves won his second term in an election shaped by Mississippi’s updated electoral rules.

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The new system, established after a 2020 constitutional amendment, requires a runoff if no candidate gets a majority in the popular vote. Reeves’ was able to secure a majority, allowing him to win without the need for a runoff.

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