State gets good marks for housing

Staff Writer

Homeownership rates in Clay, Chickasaw and Monroe counties are higher than the state average while rates in Oktibbeha and Lowndes counties, where colleges are located, fall below the state average.
Meanwhile, poverty rates in Clay and Chickasaw counties exceed the state average while Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Monroe counties are lower.

Those and dozens of other statistics are part of a new Prosperity Now scorecard examining how Mississippi stacks up against the rest of the nation in 53 policy measures under five major social categories, including health care, financial assets, education, housing and employment.

And although the state ranks eighth in the nation in affordable housing and got a "B" grade for homeownership and housing policies, it got an "F" in the other four categories and ranked 51st on the overall list for seventh straight year, according to the liberal-leaning group's listings.

"Households of color in Mississippi are 1.5 times more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck than white households, leaving them one crisis away from financial catastrophe," said Prosperity Now President Andrea Levere, noting Mississippi had the biggest deficiencies in businesses and jobs.

In and around the Golden Triangle, the statistics were similar in many areas although some disparities did exist.

For instance, the housing cost burden -- how much housing costs ate up paychecks for homeowners -- differed widely from 44.1 percent in Clay County and 43.9 percent in Chickasaw County to 27.8 percent in Oktibbeha, 31.5 percent in Lowndes and 28.9 percent in Monroe. Statewide, the average was 26.6 percent and 28.3 percent nationwide.

The differences among renters were just as widespread. While cost burden for renters was 48.1 percent statewide and 49.7 percent nationwide, it was just 44.5 percent in Monroe County. By contrast, it was 58.5 percent in Clay, 64.4 percent in Oktibbeha, 55 percent in Lowndes and 58.2 percent in Chickasaw, meaning rent put a higher burden on residents' paychecks.

Homeownership rates also differed widely, ranging from 74.7 percent in Monroe, 73.6 percent in Chickasaw, and 69.7 percent in Clay to 61.5 percent in Lowndes and 52.7 percent in Oktibbeha.
Statewide, the rate was 67.3 percent and nationwide it was 63.1 percent.

"Mississippi State and MUW make a big difference in those rates because students don't own houses and they factor into the percentages. If you could break them out, the rates probably would be closer across the board. Homeownership still is the American Dream for many, many people. Where you see differences are in and outside of cities. In Columbus, there are more renters than owners, but it's just the opposite outside the city," said Rick McGill, broker at Crye-Leike Realtors.

The percentage of residents without health insurance was more closely aligned, ranging from 16.4 percent of the population in Chickasaw and 15.6 percent in Lowndes to 14.6 percent in Clay, 12.2 percent in Oktibbeha. The state average was 13.9 percent.

Only Oktibbeha and Monroe counties exceeded the state average of 51.1 percent for employer-rpovided health insurance. At 43.3 percent, Clay County was the lowest in the region in that category.

Not surprisingly, at 43 percent, Oktibbeha County's percentage of residents with four-year college degrees was the highest in the region and almost double the state average of 21.8 percent. Lowndes County matched the state average while Clay, Monroe and Chickasaw were well below.

On financial issues, only Clay and Chickasaw counties topped the state average of 12.9 percent of the population not having a bank account. Clay County's 14.7 percent of residents was the highest in the area.
By contrast, Clay County had one of the lowest percentages in the area, albeit higher than the state average, in the percentage of households that owed more than they owned.

The state average of zero net worth households was 16.9 percent. Clay County's rate was 18.4 percent, Oktibbeha's 24.6 percent, Lowndes 21.9 percent, Monroe 17.4 percent and Chickasaw 19.4 percent.
The national average was 16.9 percent.