Escaping generational poverty in the Mississippi Delta
February 1, 2016 5:35 PM   Subscribe

In This Impoverished Mississippi Community, Teacher Assistant Is a Coveted Job. It Pays $9 an Hour. The Mississippi Delta, in particular, offers few economic opportunities, especially for women of color with children. While the unemployment rate stands at 5 percent nationally, it’s nearly 10 percent in Washington County, where Riley lives. And while about 15 percent of Americans live in poverty, more than 30 percent of Washington County residents do. The major town of Washington County,
posted by Michele in California (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My hometown. Yep.

The white folks blame everything on the black folks, or Roe v. Wade, or Obama, or all three, and retire to somewhere near their children, who left long ago.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:06 PM on February 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Mrs. Mosley is originally from Greenville and we'll be off to visit her father there in about three weeks.

It's not a happy place.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:20 PM on February 1, 2016

When I was a kid, we didn't have teacher assistants, we just had teachers. I guess this is what you have to do when you've cut taxes so low so many times and can't pay enough certified teachers and have to stretch the ones you have. So at least it's giving some people a way out of complete poverty and hopelessness, but I would feel a lot better about that if the same processes of cutting and cutting and cutting hadn't trapped them in the first place and weren't making it so much easier to keep them there.
posted by dilettante at 6:37 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Back before imports destroyed the catfish farming industry I did a lot of work in the Greenwood - Greenville - Indianola triangle at the food processing plants there. At the time, in the late 90's, I was probably making around $18 an hour. But I got to be a familiar figure in some of those plants and it was weird how I was regarded as some kind of minor god, what with being able to program computers and come and go as I please and being from that mythical place of dreams New Orleans. I might as well have shown up wearing a wizard's cap and carrying a wand. And the oddest thing was that I never really felt envied because other than the managers, who knew they were richer and more powerful than me, nobody else thought that becoming me was even a possibility for them. Every once in awhile a line operator would ask what I was doing and I'd try to explain in a way that might engage them, and I could just see the wistfulness defocusing their gaze because well I could never do that, man.

Of course now the catfish ponds have been plowed and are back to cotton and those plants are closed, so those jobs are gone too. I have been to some really poor and remote parts of the Americas to accompany my wife in her birdwatching hobby, but few places are as outright soul-crushing and depressing as the Delta.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:38 PM on February 1, 2016 [18 favorites]

I'm guessing that the typical Metafilter reader would be amazed at the number of hoops you have to jump through to get a teachers' license these days. The hoops involve an extensive outlay of money, needless to say.

It is worth it for the job satisfaction. (Well, half of all teachers quit within 5 years, so it can't be that satisfying, but that brings up some complex issues.)

The feeling of helping youngsters, having time off to take care of your own kids, having a job that is different every day, and, especially, the health insurance and pension are good benefits. The salary, not so much. But very good in the kind of community illustrated here.

The sacrifices the woman profiled in this article are ones I don't think I could make. She is a saint; or, perhaps, she is someone with almost nothing who wants very much for her children. It reminds me of many immigrants I know who work 12-hr. days 7 days a week on behalf of their children. However, this woman is not a (voluntary) immigrant.
posted by kozad at 8:16 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was a certified music teacher before kids. I was split between several schools so I worked with lots of folks. So many people were teaching assistants just for the benefits. The pay was nothing but they could insure their families. I wouldn't want to teach again.... But, I might be a TA.... Sadly, those jobs are mostly gone in Ga.
posted by pearlybob at 12:01 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

. . . but few places are as outright soul-crushing and depressing as the Delta.

Not if you're from there, though. That's the damnedest thing: I am condemned to love it. But all the stunning sunsets and rich summer scent in the world won't feed people, which is why there was so little to do for me there, and why this article breaks my heart.

Every so often, when I'm visiting home, I overhear French or German tourists in a restaurant; they're following the blues trail. I cannot imagine the contempt they must feel for us. I want to clasp their hands and say Entschuldigung, excusez-moi, and try to explain. But Jasmine could tell them more than I ever could.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:57 AM on February 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

Your comments make me wish I could go pass out cheap android tablets there and give classes on how to make money online. In the Internet age, we really shouldn't have any places in the U.S. that are soul crushingly hopeless. In a dirt poor place, you wouldn't need to make a lot online to make a difference in your life.
posted by Michele in California at 10:27 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

This seems crazy to me. You can be a substitute teacher in Utah with a High School Diploma and these women are so far beyond what is "qualified" here. This just breaks my heart.
posted by Marinara at 11:26 AM on February 2, 2016

I spent several of my teen years in Arkansas, in a town with a population of 535 that had 7 churches. Most people from urban areas have no idea how impoverished rural communities work; there are so many differences, even from poor city life, that it's hard to describe.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this article is--yeah, that's an awfully low wage for a job that would pay easily double that elsewhere, but OTOH, elsewhere rent would be higher to match. (Some expenses don't aren't lowered by location, though; gas prices in rural MI aren't half what they are in the SF bay area.) But it's not like offering this woman a job in California would fix her hardships, or even if it could, it wouldn't change the rest of the community she lives in.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2016

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