It’s common knowledge that Mississippi has a history of struggling with poverty. While leaders across the state have grappled with the poverty rate and debated the best method to address the problem, it is unfortunate to note that many of the proposals have been centered around government as the solution instead of individual growth and success.

At the heart of many of the initiatives against poverty is the idea that poverty is simply caused by a lack of resources. Thus, the theory goes that to fight against poverty, all the government must do is provide resources, and poverty will be eroded. While such a proposal may seem simple enough at first glance, such a view of poverty has led to many government programs ultimately failing and a cycle of dependence being created within many communities.   

Such a purely materialistic view of poverty fails to account for other factors that contribute to poverty. Such factors can include family instability, addiction, education, criminal activity, the economic environment, and other factors. People in poverty are not mere machines that just need some more financial fuel. They are human beings with unique challenges and struggles.

It is the failure of government to recognize this that has caused so many government programs to be doomed for failure from the start. People are not mere statistics and math equations that can be plugged into bureaucratic central planning and be made to go with the program. No matter how well-organized and well-intentioned a government program might be, government office buildings and procedures have very little ability to work with citizens on the truly individual level.

On the contrary, individuals have the ability to look at their unique circumstances and find solutions and opportunities. For this reason, it is ultimately individual choices and personal responsibility that are the most effective means for people to come out of poverty. Yet, due to an ever-expanding government, many within the Magnolia State have been pushed away from the choices that can lift them out of poverty. This has been primarily done through the two-pronged nanny-state policies of handouts and regulations.

On the one hand, the welfare system often encourages people not to work. A study by the Cato Institute found that in some cases, government programs are paying recipients close or even more than what they could expect to earn through employment. In Mississippi, the state has the 7th highest per-capita welfare expenditures in the country.

In addition to encouragement not to work through certain welfare policies, the state’s current regulatory environment provides a direct discouragement from working in many cases. A study by the Institute for Justice found that Mississippi ranked as the 6th most heavily burdened state for occupational licensing on low-income jobs -jobs that could otherwise help lift people out of poverty. The study also found that the average occupational license requires more than five months of education and training. History has exposed the failure of a perspective on poverty that simply views low-income citizens as statistical puzzle pieces that need adjustment through bureaucratic central planning and government handouts. Mississippi leaders should shift the perspective of poverty from an angle that focuses on government, to an angle that focuses on the people and attacks poverty by clearing the boundaries to individual responsibility and dignified labor.