WASHINGTON D.C.— Nearly three in five Mississippi residents are living on the edge of financial disaster with almost no savings to fall back on in the event of a job loss, health crisis or other income-depleting emergency, according to a report released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED).
The 2013 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard defines these residents as “liquid asset poor,” which means they lack adequate savings to cover basic expenses at the federal poverty level for just three months if they suffer a loss of stable income. Included in this group are a majority of Mississippi residents who live below the official income poverty line of $23,050 for a family of four, as well as many who would consider themselves middle class. Fully 44% of households earning between $40,549 and $66,972 per year have less than three months of savings ($5,762 for a family of four).
Without savings, these families have limited hope of building a more prosperous future for themselves or their children, including saving for college, buying a home or setting aside money for retirement.
“In order to cope with the recession’s continued impact, these families have had to prioritize today’s expenses over tomorrow’s goals,” said Andrea Levere, president of CFED. She called the findings “particularly disturbing given the ongoing budget talks in Congress that will likely result in further reductions in the social safety net and other programs that help low- and moderate-income people get on their feet and start planning and saving for a better future.”
Published annually, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard offers the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, fend off poverty and create a more prosperous future. The Scorecard explores how well residents are faring in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and assesses policies that are helping residents build and protect assets across five issue areas: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education.
Mississippi ranks 49th in the country overall in the ability of residents to achieve financial security. The Scorecard evaluates states across 53 measures within the five different issue areas. Mississippi receives an “F” in Financial Assets & Income, with the worst rates of income poverty, unbanked households and consumers with subprime credit in the nation. Mississippi also ranks 51st for the percentage of low-wage jobs. Educational attainment is low in Mississippi, which ranks 49th in adults with at least a high school degree, 47th in two-year college degrees and 50th in four-year degrees. The state ranks 50th in math and reading proficiency for 8th graders. There are several bright spots for the state, however. Mississippi has the 7th lowest level of credit card debt, with an average of $6,847 per borrower. Mississippi also ranks 11th for its homeownership rate and 10th in affordability of homes.
“Although there are signs of improvement in Mississippi’s economy, with unemployment edging downward in recent months, this year’s Assets & Opportunity Scorecard paints a picture of a state – and a nation – that is struggling to achieve economic opportunity for all residents,” said Jennifer Brooks, director of state and local policy for CFED.
To address these challenges, the Scorecard includes a dozen policy solutions that can help Mississippi increase opportunity and promote financial well-being for all residents. To reduce high income and asset poverty and improve credit scores, Mississippi should adopt tax credits so low-income families have more income to pay down debt and save. The state should also create a Child Savings Account program. To protect unbanked and underbanked households from predatory financial products, Mississippi should prohibit or cap interest rates at 36% APR for payday and auto-title loans and enhance consumer loan protections around predatory financial products. To increase small business ownership, Mississippi should provide capital, guarantees, tax credits and additional credit enhancements that enable Community Development Financial Institutions to increase entrepreneurship, asset development and job creation in low-income areas. To improve job quality, especially for low-income, low-skill workers, Mississippi should support Sector Initiatives, which meet employer needs for skilled workers while simultaneously raising wages for workers. Finally, to improve math and reading proficiency and increase high school and college attainment, Mississippi should increase funding in high-poverty school districts and match college savings through in 529 accounts.
Nationally, the Scorecard data reveal the daunting reality facing far too many low- and moderate-income families as they struggle to move up the economic ladder. CFED found that 25 states saw increases in liquid asset poverty over findings reported in the 2012 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. The report also found continuing racial gaps, with nearly 63% of households of color considered liquid asset poor compared with 35% of white households. Among the other key findings:
Many households don’t have the basic tools to save for a rainy day, with nearly a third (30.8%) lacking a savings account and 8.2% with no mainstream financial account at all.
For the second year in a row, more than half (56.4%) of consumers have subprime credit rates, meaning they do not qualify for short-term credit at “prime” rates, making them more likely to turn to high-cost payday, auto-title or installment loans.
Two out of every three college graduates is leaving school with student loan debt, the average amount of which increased by $552.98 over last year’s Scorecard findings to $26,600.
By the second quarter of 2012, the foreclosure rate had dropped to 4.27% – a decrease from a 2010 high of 4.6% but still above the pre-housing crash rate of 0.99% in 2006. The move by financial institutions to stop offering high-cost mortgages has been a mixed blessing for asset poor families. On the up side, they are no longer prey to abusive and unscrupulous lenders. On the down side, they are largely shut out of the mortgage market.
To read an analysis of key findings from the 2013 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, click here. To access the complete Scorecard, visit http://assetsandopportunity.org/scorecard.