New Report Details Delta’s Challenges

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 7 views 

Fewer Arkansans in the state’s eastern half have college degrees than the rest of the country, and they face other challenges related to income and health, according to a report released Wednesday by the Delta Regional Authority.

The report, “Today’s Delta,” found that 12.2 percent of Arkansas Delta residents 25-and-over had a college degree during the period studied from 2006-10, compared to 17.6 percent of Americans nationwide.

Moreover, an additional 6.4 percent have a graduate or professional degree in those counties, compared to 10.3 percent of Americans. While 49.6 percent of Americans have only a high school degree, 57.4 percent of the population in those counties do.

The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state partnership created by Congress that serves 252 counties in an eight-state Mississippi Delta region that includes Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

In Arkansas, the 42 counties served span the state from its northern to its southern borders and range from the Mississippi River as far west as Searcy County in the northern half and Ouachita County in the south. Pulaski County is included.

The UALR-based Institute for Economic Advancement was the primary researcher for the report.

During a telephone conference call, Christopher Masingill, DRA federal co-chairman, said the findings are significant considering the importance of a college degree. According to a recent Georgetown University report, “The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm,” nearly four out of five jobs lost in the recession were held by employees with a high school diploma or less.

The report highlighted other challenges faced by the Delta. It found that the median household income in those Arkansas counties is $37,745, compared to a national median of $51,914. Forty-one percent of children in those Arkansas counties were growing up in single parent homes during the period studied from 2006-10, compared to a nationwide average of 32 percent. Across the eight-state Delta region, the average was 42.5 percent. Meanwhile, 19.5 percent of the Arkansas Delta population was living in poverty, compared to 13.8 percent of the nation.

However, the 2011 Arkansas Delta unemployment rate of 8.9 percent was slightly better than the 9 percent recorded nationwide.

In health-related matters, 33.6 percent of adults in those Arkansas counties were obese in 2009, compared to 27.5 percent nationwide. In 2010, 19.5 percent of the population in those counties lacked health insurance, compared to a national rate of 17.7 percent.

Accompanying the report was an announcement that the DRA is awarding $1.7 million to eight institutions in four states. In Arkansas, the Trumann Innovative Workforce Development Center is receiving $206,000. The Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium, where five eastern Arkansas community colleges offer workforce training services, received $200,000.