(So you can sit back and enjoy your fried catfish without lifting a finger on Google)
M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. The state that was the nail in the coffin for all our spelling tests in elementary school. While it might be one of the most confusing states to spell, it is more than just a jumble of repeating letters. It’s big magnolia trees shading front porches. It’s a slower pace of life wrapped around a simple existence. It’s also the birthplace of Elvis Presley and blues music. It’s kind of a big deal.
This soulful southern state that has the alligator as its official reptile is worth checking out for a number of reasons. We’ve just happened to compile a few to help in deciding whether the Magnolia State should or should not be on your “move to” list. We’re not telling you what to do. We’re just helping you along in your journey.
The job market and economic state of this southern belle has been questionable at best the past 10 years. As a state, it’s struggled to recover from the 2008 recession, and the job market has keenly felt that pain. Mississippi is ranked the state 46th overall for best states for job and economic opportunities, even though it has one of the lowest unemployment rates its seen in years at 4.5%.
While the economy is still trying to come back from a monster hit, the state remains affordable (an unintended consequence). U.S. News ranked it 13th for affordability overall, and 1st for affordable cost of living. That’s good news for your healthcare costs, utilities and weekly supply of Oreos. It’s also good that the state is so affordable, with minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.
As for jobs to take care of that Oreo fixation, agriculture and forestry are the supreme rulers. Agriculture employs around 30% of the state’s workers on farms covering more than 10 million acres of land, making it the state’s number one industry.
Other leading industries include manufacturing, trade, education and health services. The top fastest growing jobs are physician’s assistant, home health aide and industrial mechanic. Out of the 10 professions listed, five relate to health services. It makes sense, considering the organizations with the largest workforces in the state include the University of Mississippi Medical Center and North Mississippi Medical Center.
While it seems the Magnolia State offers affordable living for its citizens, at what cost are you willing to get it? At the cost of job security, a livable paycheck, or your Oreos? We’re putting that decision in your hands.
Another consequence of a struggling economy is migration. Last year, Mississippi lost almost 8,000 due to migration out of the state. Most people are leaving to look for better jobs and economic opportunities. A big portion of those people are college graduates; only a little more than half of the graduates from the state’s eight public universities are still living and working in the state five years after graduation.
Consequently, the housing prices reflect the stagnant population. U.S. News ranked the state’s housing affordability 23rd in the nation. Not only is the cost of living low, housing has also followed suit. The median home value is $120,300 while the rent is $1,100. As in most states, however, housing costs are expected to rise 3.5% over the next year.
A decrease in population also means a decrease in the need for new housing. Sources say the majority of homes in the state were built between 1970 and 1979, and there isn’t much new construction to be found. Most new construction is focused around the coastal areas. Even the capital, and largest urban center, Jackson, sees very few opportunities for new construction purchases.
People and Culture
Mississippi is a state with a rich southern history layered throughout with delectable soul food. From its place as the second state to secede from the Union in 1861, to being at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century, Mississippi has been a state in constant transition. It’s been struggling to find its place.
One thing the state did find (and they’re proud of it) is it’s appreciation for music. Not only was the King himself from a tiny town in ol’ Miss, but blues music originated here, evolving from the spirituals and hymns sung by African slaves while they worked on the plantations.
As a largely rural and poor state (21% of the state was below the poverty line in 2016), most of its population has embraced a slower pace of living rooted deep in southern charm and hospitality, but with a fighting spirit. Go to the Magnolia State and you’ll find a state that may be struggling to evolve with the rest of the U.S., but also a state with people ready to embrace the coming years.
In addition to soulful music and food, Mississippi embraces a more soulful life than any other state in the nation (hence, it is home to the largest bible-binding plant in the country). It’s tied for the most religious state in the country with Alabama. While 77% of adults identify as highly religious, they also tend to lean further to the right in matters of politics, with the state voting Republican in every presidential election since 1980.
Must-Sees in Ol’ Miss
This southern charmer offers plenty one-of-a-kind experiences for any newcomer. You may be surprised by the number of non-alligator-related adventures one can have in ol’ Miss (although there is a surprising number of them too). Here are some of the top ones we found.
Must-sees in the state:
- Vicksburg National Military Park: A memorial to the Battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War, this 20-mile strip of land still has the trenches where this game-changing battle was fought in 1863.
- Tupelo Automobile Museum: Car enthusiasts, this one’s for you. Found in the town of Tupelo, this 120,000-square-foot museum has over 100 classic and collectible automobiles. They include an 1886 Mercedes-Benz, a never-driven 2004 Dodge Viper, and a Lincoln that was owned by Elvis Presley. Commence drooling.
- Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum: This museum commemorating the life of the one and only King of Rock and Roll solidifies the quiet town of Tupelo’s spot on the map.
- Rock and Blues Museum: Found in Clarksdale, this 7,000-square-foot museum has both traveling and permanent exhibits that detail the lives of famous rock and blues musicians, alongside artifacts of the classic music genres.
- The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science: Located in Jackson, inside LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, the museum boasts 300 acres of open space, 2.5 miles of hiking trails, and a 100,000- gallon tank with over 200 species of aquatic animals. It’s the largest museum in the state and a great idea if you have curious children. Just don’t forget about the alligators.
- Prairie Arts Festival: Held in West Point every year for the past 38 years, this festival was named one of the top ten events in the south. It’s a day filled with arts, crafts, cooking, cars, music, and everything else quintessentially southern. With over 600 exhibits, it’s one of the largest arts and crafts festivals in the country.
Pros and Cons of Living in the Magnolia State
Mississippi is a state that has struggled in the past due to significant cultural circumstances. That doesn’t mean that even during these tribulations, it doesn’t offer its citizens some goody bags once in a while. The fight is real, but where there is struggle, there is still hope for growth.
Pros of living in ol’ Miss:
- Cost of higher education: The state is ranked 13th for cost of higher education. For 2017 and 2018, the average cost of college tuition for in-state residents was $4,624.
- Low cost of living: A consequence of economic challenges, but a pro nonetheless. It’s one of the cheapest states to live in, so you can definitely stretch your dollar the furthest here. That’s also a good thing, with the amount of soul food you’re bound to fill up on. Which leads us to our next point...
- Food: When you think of southern comfort you probably think of food (and your freshman year of college). Mississippi is no exception to the delicious comforting taste of at-home southern cooking. With the soul food staples of biscuits and gravy, collard greens, okra, cornbread and catfish making regular appearances on everyone’s dinner tables, every newcomer is sure to eat happy (and gain a few pounds) in Mississippi.
Cons of living in ol’ Miss:
- Health care: Health care throughout the state is questionable at best, and pitiful at worst. Access, affordability and quality of the state’s health care are all ranked last out of every state in the country. The state is working hard to bring affordable and convenient healthcare access to all of its many rural and impoverished citizens.
- Quality of education: College readiness and reading and math scores for 8th graders are among the lowest in the country. While higher education is cheap, only 22% of high school graduates in the state actually have a bachelor’s degree.
- Economy: While the state has difficulties providing the basic needs of its citizens, it also has faces problems with providing economic opportunities. With the lowest median household income in the country and its poverty rate and food insecurity being the worst in the nation, Mississippi is a state in desperate need of economic transformation.
Every state has its fair share of weird laws that everyone either ignores or doesn’t realize exist. Mississippi has definitely come up with plenty of strange ones over the years. We’re hoping it’s not only the citizens choosing to ignore them, but law enforcement as well.
Weird laws to watch out for in the state:
- If one is a parent to two illegitimate children, that person will go to jail for at least one month. Keep it together people. For the children.
- It is illegal to teach others what polygamy is. It’s not enough for the act itself to be illegal, now no one even knows what it is that’s illegal.
- One may be fined up to $100 for using “profane language” in public places. This is for all you dirty-mouthed pirates out there. Keep it together, dudes.
- Private citizens may personally arrest any person that disturbs a church service. Parents, those babies need to stay in check or they might be facing some hard time.
- Adultery or fornication results in a fine of $500 and/or 6 months in prison. Marriage (to one person) is taken seriously here. Clearly.
Welcome to Mississippi
At first glance, it may seem like Mississippi is struggling to get its bearings in the new millennium. It’s also a state that’s trying desperately to provide for its citizens. While it's unlikely all of them will up and leave, the large out-migration of the last few years is worrying for a state with an economy eager for a boost.
As with most states in transition, there are positives along with the unfortunate negatives. The people and the culture are definitely two big ones. If you can take the good with the bad, and spin it for your own personal victory, be our guest. Mississippi is ready and willing to welcome you into the fold. As long as you’re game for a catfish fry later.