In 1995 Mississippi’s average wage was 77 percent of the average for the United States as a whole. Ten years later that number had fallen to 75 percent. And in 2015 it had dropped even further, to 73 percent, as Mississippi ranked last in the United States with an average weekly wage of $709. Between 1995 and 2005, average annual earnings increased 11 percent in real purchasing power, bringing the average wage up to 152 percent of the poverty threshold for a family of four. Thus, while substantial improvement in real earnings occurred, the rest of the country experienced even greater gains.
Among the industries in which the average wage in Mississippi has historically been higher than that of the country as a whole are forestry and fishing, mining, construction, transportation and warehousing, health care and social assistance, arts and recreation, and accommodation and food. Industries with wages historically at or below 75 percent of the US average included manufacturing, information services, finance and insurance, management of companies, and state and local government.
Mississippi’s relatively low average wage has resulted primarily from two factors. First, some large, higher-paying industries, including manufacturing and finance and insurance, paid 75 percent or less of the US average. Second, Mississippi has had a relatively high number of workers in lower-paying industries, including retail trade, accommodation and food services, and state and local government, all of which have paid less than the state average wage.
The sizable wage gaps in manufacturing, information services, finance and insurance, management, educational services, and state and local government indicate the state’s generally low level of economic development, which in turn is related to both the skill levels of the population and to the products and processes characterizing economic activities.
In 2006 African Americans with full-time, year-round employment earned 82 percent as much as similarly situated whites across the United States; in Mississippi the ratio was 69 percent. Mississippi also had a higher wage gap by sex, with the state’s full-time female workers earning 72 percent as much as men, compared to a national ratio of 77 percent. The wage gaps between women and men and between blacks and whites, however, were less in 2005 than they were in 1989, both in Mississippi and throughout the nation. Some of the decrease in the gender wage gap, however, resulted from stagnation in the real earnings of male high school graduates, a trend that did not hold for female graduates.
Among the state’s major demographic groups, black women had the lowest wage rates, with median earnings of $21,046 in 2006. They earned only 69 percent of what African American women earned nationally and only 52 percent of what white men in the state earned. Mississippi’s white males, however, had median earnings of $40,260, 88 percent of the figure for their national counterparts, the same ratio as the state’s white women. Black males in Mississippi earned 80 percent of the national median for their counterparts and 92 percent of the median for white women in the state. The overall wage gap between women and men in Mississippi ranks the state in the bottom half of the nation. Closing the wage gap between men and women in Mississippi could probably cut the poverty rate in half for women and their families, in both single-parent and two-parent homes.
Part, but not all, of the wage gaps by race and gender can be explained by differences in occupations. A 1996 study showed that occupational differences by race and sex were greater in Mississippi than in the South as a whole and greater in the region than in the entire United States.
Mississippians working to reduce the wage gaps in the state have suggested several strategies. Employers, for example, could encourage women and minorities to pursue nontraditional occupations by providing training opportunities to current employees, instituting broader searches for new employees, and ensuring career advancement paths for all employees. Educational institutions could do more to train all students and to encourage students to consider nontraditional options. Pay equity across job categories would also tend to reduce gender wage gaps by ensuring that the training and skills requirements of different jobs are systematically compared when setting pay rates.
- Marianne Hill, Mississippi Economic Review and Outlook (February 1996, December 2006)
- Institute for Women’s Policy Research website, www.iwpr.org
- Stephanie Jones, ed., State of Black America (2007)
- Laurence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and Heidi Shierholz, The State of Working America, 2006–2007, www.epinet.org
- National Urban League website, www.nul.org
- Robert Stoker and Michael Rich, Lessons and Limits: Tax Incentives and Rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina (August 2006), www.brookings.org
- US Bureau of Economic Analysis website, www.bea.gov
- US Bureau of the Census website, www.census.gov