In 2018, Jackson reported one of the highest murder rates in its history, part of a disturbing recent trend in violent crime.
WLBT reported a homicide rate standing at 50.3 per 100,000 people. The Clarion Ledger reported just a few weeks ago that Jackson is on a record pace for murders, with estimates as high as 100 murders possible for this year. Shockingly, Jackson ranked third in the nation for its murder rate, standing only behind St. Louis and Birmingham in 2018. This sets Jackson violence ahead of New Orleans, Memphis, and Detroit, and is double the rate in Chicago.
While Jackson leaders had previously promised a crime center that would dramatically help the situation, nothing has come to fruition yet.
The facts are clear, and the continued violence has hollowed out the town, driven down the population, and thus further discouraged younger generations from remaining in Mississippi, due to the lacking state of what should be a prosperous urban center.
Mississippi Today reported last year that the state is losing millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) at the fastest rate in the country, and it is millennials who are driving much of the population decline for the state. Many of these individuals attend public schools within the state through college, and then leave. This mass departure represents the loss of a serious investment from the public. Every individual who leaves, takes with them their years of college and high school education, largely funded by state taxpayers.
While the suburbs around Jackson are thriving, a fact emphasized by the wealth transfer away from Hinds County, the city itself is rotting at its core. Jackson’s population has been on a consistent decline since 1980.
City of Jackson population, 1970-2017
Residents are being driven away, thus causing an erosion of the tax base. This decline in revenue has impacted government operations, thus driving more people toward the better managed suburbs or out of the state entirely, and creating a vicious internal cycle.
If Mississippi aims to seriously contend with the existing brain drain, then it must explore the root of what is driving so many young people to leave the state.
According to a recent Nielsen study, millennials are drawn to cities at greater rates than previous generations. Older Americans once sought suburban withdrawal, but Nielsen reveals that millennials are tending to seek life with more subways than driveways. Compared to surrounding states, Mississippi has less to offer in regards to urban life, a point that is heightened by Jackson’s continued decline.
To begin drawing in residents again (especially millennials), the state must prioritize urban renewal for the city that was once considered a “gem of the south,” and it ought to start by making its residents feel secure again. A fully funded crime center equipped with expanded technological capacities to monitor and respond to crime around the city (as was promised) would be a potential major step forward.
Christopher H. Wheeler, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve, has extensively studied and reported on the role that neighborhood characteristics play when businesses make a location decision. He found that security and low crime rates are vital to incentivizing business. The boarded up windows of former stores in the downtown area are a resting testament to our inability to attract new business, and without new business and new opportunities there are no new customers or new employees.
Rather than attempting to financially incentivize out-of-state organizations to set up shop with tax payer funded bribes, we ought to consider bettering our natural incentives first. This can only be done by creating an environment in which it is safe to live and work. Reducing the violent crime rate has the potential to change Jackson’s trajectory.
With a rejuvenated and safer urban center, we can attract new businesses to the state (without costly financial guarantees) and hopefully encourage people to choose Jackson again. For Mississippi to once again grow its population and revitalize its urban center in Jackson, people need to feel safe to operate a business and live their lives without the overhanging storm cloud that is an immense violent crime rate.
This week, Mississippi Center for Public Policy will be looking into the underlying reasons as to why Jackson is struggling, exploring the legislative and regulatory climate which encourages migration and business stagnation both within our capital city, and across the state.