/Fed chairman Jerome Powell plans Delta trip to spotlight economic hardship, talk solutions

Fed chairman Jerome Powell plans Delta trip to spotlight economic hardship, talk solutions

According to Census data, 44 percent of Itta Bena’s residents are in poverty. This is a town with more than 1,800 people. Mississippi’s unemployment rate is 4.1 percent. However, 14 Delta counties have higher rates. Itta Bena’s home county, Leflore County, has a 5.9% unemployment rate. Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve will be making his first visit to the Mississippi Delta to address the financial hardships in areas of persistent poverty in America, such as Itta Bena, and to offer solutions to close financial gaps. It speaks volumes about the importance this issue is to Powell. …We felt that it was important for people from the Delta and other places to see someone in a position like the chairman to travel out of Washington to visit the money centers in New York, Chicago, or Silicon Valley,” stated William (Bill) Bynum CEO of HOPE Enterprise Corp, a financial institution dedicated to community development, during a telephone call with Mississippi Today. “But, come to the heart of the nation, where people are struggling, the economic disparities in this country have widened,” he said. These areas are important and he wants them to be part of the solution. The region has made great strides due to investments from foundations and community members. But poverty and its effects still remain. “I’m proud they’re coming here to the Mississippi Delta, and at some point it will be an oasis instead of being what it’s been,” stated Sen. David Jordan (D-Greenwood). “People should know our story, the consequences that we went through and how many people are persevering through civil right and other options to make life better …. We have suffered the most from racism in the past and will continue to suffer for the next generation. We have made this country richer… No Americans have done as African Americans have done, especially in the Deep South, when cotton was king.” HOPE invited Powell and representatives from Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to address its rural policy forum, “Rural Places and Rural Spaces: Closing Financial Service GAPs in Persistent poverty America” at Mississippi Valley State University, February 12. (Disclosure: Bill and Hope Bynum, as well as the Walton Family Foundation, have contributed financially to Mississippi Today. HOPE provides financial services and resources to help economically distressed communities in Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. According to a news release, the forum was created to “stimulate solutions in communities that exist at the edge of the economy, where the development level of difficulty is high and where financial resources are scarce.” The national poverty rate is now at 14%, but Mississippi’s rate has risen the most. 20.8 percent of Mississippians live in poverty. This is based on a 3-year average from 2014 to 2016. It also has the lowest median household income at $41,754. Bynum stated that investing in areas with persistent poverty is crucial. Itta Bena’s ability to improve financial mobility is part of the work that HOPE does. Bynum said that the group wanted to host a forum for “national leaders, public officials and foundations” to not only discuss the financial gap in areas of poverty but also “increase investment in those areas and be part the solution.” We’ve seen that people with influence can make a real difference when they do it intentionally. Itta Bena …. “We’ve seen bank branches close in record numbers… problems with health care, in which case they need financial tools for changing those conditions,” stated Bynum. He said that people also need affordable housing and education to be able “support their families and contribute to the local economies.” We all know the history and tragedies of the Mississippi Delta. Jordan stated that African Americans are Americans and have paid their dues. “Good people… Many of them have died and labored all their lives, but they died because of the lack of healthcare and opportunities and the fact that they didn’t get a good education to help them live long.” A civil rights tour will take place at 1 p.m. on February 11. Following the tour, Jerry Mitchell, founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Journalism, will moderate a discussion about civil rights and community development for the 21st century. The conference registration fee is $75-100.