Quick Links Strategies to Build Economic Security in Mississippi, Shortcomings of the Official Federal Poverty Measure, Better Tools to Measure Economic Need in Mississippi, Improving Lives in Mississippi Using Better Measures, What Our Partners Are Saying, Our History Nearly one in three non-elderly Mississippi households struggles to make ends meet.  However, the federal poverty measure captures only about half of Mississippians who need assistance. The other half falls through the cracks of our support systems, unable to qualify for many programs. Through Insight Center's Building Economic Security for All (BESA), we work to help all Mississippians achieve a basic level of economic security so they have enough money to not only cover the expenses of everyday life like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, but also enough to begin to develop and/or draw on savings and assets. Savings and assets are what enable people to cover the costs of emergencies, build an economically secure future, and leave poverty behind, for good.

Strategies to Build Economic Security in Mississippi

Having been a leader on this issue since 1997, the Insight Center uses a combination of strategies to build economic security in Mississippi. We:
  • Research to inform decision-makers about what it truly costs to make ends meet and which populations are struggling the most in which regions of Mississippi
  • Organize local organizations who convene statewide education and mobilization campaigns to develop systems which support, rather than hinder, families in their own efforts towards economic stability
  • Advocate to transform the way we measure and combat poverty in Mississippi and the U.S. through legislative and administrative reforms, and by developing best practices on the ground
  • Educate policymakers, foundations, businesses, and the media about proven practices to support working families in Mississippi
  • Build Capacity of local organizations to design and advocate for effective policies and programs to move families toward economic security through training and one-on-one assistance
  Drawing from our experience leading Californians for Economic Security (CFES), the California effort to build family economic stability, we are currently working with local organizations in Mississippi, including Mississippi Economic Policy Center and the Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Office, to create a diverse, statewide coalition of stakeholders dedicated to the economic stability of all Mississippians called Building Economic Security in Mississippi. (back to top)

Shortcomings of the Official Federal Poverty Measures

Poverty reduction programs in Mississippi and across the country use outdated measures, the Federal Poverty Thresholds and Federal Poverty Guidelines, to determine who needs and receives assistance for many programs. The Federal Poverty Guidelines are "frozen" at the level of a basket of goods and services adequate for families in the 1950s, and updated only for inflation. They do not reflect rapidly increasing costs, such as health care and taxes or "new" costs such as child care; nor do they reflect local differences in the cost of basic goods and services. As a result, tens of thousands of Mississippians who are not making ends meet do not receive the support they need: the official poverty measure captures only about half of the Mississippi households who need assistance. (back to top)

Better Tools to Measure Economic Need in Mississippi

Families living in Mississippi pay different amounts for basic household goods depending on where they live and the composition of their household. For example, in lower-cost Carroll County, a family of two adults, one preschooler, and one school age child needs $32,076 a year to cover the cost of basic needs. But in higher-cost Lamar County, that same family needs $45,261 - over $13,000 more a year - to pay for those same household expenses. Our organizing and advocacy work focuses on what it actually costs to make ends meet in communities across Mississippi, as defined by the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Mississippi (Self-Sufficiency Standard), a measure of the income needed to cover basic needs available for 70 different family types in each of Mississippi's 82 counties. Unlike the official federal poverty measures, the Self-Sufficiency Standard uses publicly available data sources to quantify the actual costs of meeting the basic needs for working families by county - without public or private assistance. (back to top)

Improving Lives in Mississippi Using Better Measures

Service providers, advocates, foundations, educators, and working families are using the Self-Sufficiency Standard to improve lives in Mississippi. They use the tool to:
  • Demonstrate the impact of resources that support working parents, including child care subsidies
  • Measure the return on investment in grantmaking
  • Help families and advocates see the big picture implications of budget cuts and benefits cliffs", whereby families make too much to qualify for programs but not enough to cover their basic needs
  • Teach high school students how to manage their finances and prepare for jobs and careers that pay self-sufficiency wages
  • Fundraise to expand programs that help working families reach economic stability
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What Our Partners Are Saying

    • "We use the Self-Sufficiency Standard data to illustrate the need for targeted training programs that prepare working Mississippians for good paying jobs and workforce supports." - Ed Sivak, Mississippi Economic Policy Center
    • "The Self-Sufficiency Standard helps identify the kinds of jobs you need to get in order to avoid the "cradle to prison pipeline". We will continue to use the Standard to educate people about where they are now and what they need to be planning to get the education and skills necessary to be above the Standard." - Oleta Fitzgerald, Childrens Defense Fund Southern Regional Office
    • "We are working with a number of Master Teachers in Economics to integrate the Self-Sufficiency Standard into a public high school financial literacy curriculum throughout the state to understand self-sufficiency and to identify jobs and career pathways that pay self-sufficiency wages." - Pam Smith, Mississippi Council on Economic Education
    • "We revamped our grantmaking and advocacy work to focus on the overall goal of economic self-sufficiency for women, using the Self-Sufficiency Standard as the underlying blueprint for these changes." - Carol Penick, Women's Fund of Mississippi
    • "We use the Self-Sufficiency Standard to educate the media about how much families have to spend on housing and other basic needs. Getting folks comfortable with the federal poverty line and having them understand that this is what we've used for years, but it's not any good, is one thing. It's another thing to say, 'let's flip it on its head and let's look at what's adequate income versus what's inadequate income.'" - Dena Wittman, formerly with Back Bay Mission
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Our History

The Insight Center was one of four leaders that, in 1997, launched the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Project: an innovative, nation-wide effort to gain support for proven practices to help working families reach economic security, using realistic benchmarks of what it takes to make ends meet in today's economy.  With partners in 37 states, this work has developed into a national movement to transform the way we measure and address poverty in the United States. (back to top)