LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Danny Hazlip eats his Thanksgiving meal Thursday afternoon at the Stewpot as other patrons leave with their boxed meals.

Archived Story

Census numbers suggest poverty levels growing in area

Published 12:03am Sunday, November 25, 2012

By Vershal Hogan, Lindsey Shelton & Justin Whitmore

NATCHEZ — For years, Danny Hazlip was a carpenter. He helped build factories, houses and apartment buildings in Natchez. Name an apartment complex in town, he said, and he likely put sweat and labor into it.

But along the way, work dried up, private homes, too.

Hazlip recently moved to Waveland to look for a job there, but finding nothing, came back to Natchez. He referred to the experience as “Rock Bottom, Mississippi.”

Hazlip has veteran’s medical and pension from the time he spent in the Navy, but it’s not a lot, and starting a couple of years ago, he had to begin trekking past two of the apartment complexes he had helped build to grab a meal at the Natchez Stewpot.

Though it didn’t start out that way, it’s now a part of his daily routine.

“How important is (the Stewpot) to me?” he said. “How important is eating?”

Hazlip said in addition to the carpentry work that used to support him, he has a couple of years worth of truck driving experience, and he’s working to upgrade his license for commercial transport.

“I want to be a little more self-sufficient and not so much of a sponge,” he said.

But until then, he needs the help.

Hazlip is part of what those working to provide help say is a growing number.

Mississippi’s poverty level has risen from approximately 20 percent to 22.6 percent — the worst in the country — since 1999 according to U.S. Census data.

The rise is on par with the trend across the country that has led to more Americans living in poverty than ever before, according to a new formula for estimating the U.S. poverty rate devised by the Census Bureau.

Natchez, Adams County and Concordia Parish are on track with those trends, area non-profit leaders said.

“It has continued to get worse over the years,” said Tiffany Mascagni, executive director of the United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou. “We absolutely see people who have never needed any type of assistance who do now.”

Adams County’s poverty rate is higher than the state’s at 30.4 percent, and Mascagni said the rise in poverty is not the only issue affecting the United Way’s ability to assist those in need.

“There have also been funding cuts,” she said. “Most agencies are not receiving the federal grants they once did. As the need continues to grow, funds continue to shrink.”

The United Way is combatting the loss of funding by adopting several new fundraisers, Mascagni said.

The increased pressure on non-profits has some organizers, like Stewpot Director Louis Gunning, worried about tomorrow.

“We have seen an increase (in the number of people needing help),” Gunning said. “And because of that increase, we are really getting in financial problems. We may have to take some steps to cut back on the number of meals we serve. We are not at that point now, but it’s definitely something we’re worried about. We’re OK right now, but from what it looks like, the future doesn’t look good.”

Gunning said a few ideas on the table are cutting back on meals the Stewpot delivers or cutting back on the meals given to people who may be close to the borderline of needing the service.

Currently, the Stewpot serves between 300 and 400 people daily.

“I think we are pretty much maxed out on what we can handle,” he said. “How much more do we need to handle? I don’t know. Over the years we haven’t turned down more than four or five people.”

Not only is the need greater in 2012 than it was a decade ago, but the winter months are the peak time for non-profits in the area, Feed the Hungry Director Linda Bonnette said.

“Our busiest time usually starts in the fall for one reason or another,” Bonnette said. “People that count on yard work or even roofers can only work in a certain kind of weather, and they can’t count on a 40-hour paycheck.”

Thankfully the greater need during the holiday season is helped by a greater sense of charity people have during the holidays, Mascagni said.

“People are more in need during this time of year, and at the same time people are definitely more apt to give,” she said.

With most of the non-profits already stretched to the limit, and the economy still in doubt, Mascagni said organizations must be ready to take on even more people.

“I’m definitely optimistic things can turn around, but the way things appear to be headed, we need to be ready for them to get worse,” she said.

Bonnette said the Miss-Lou community could provide the catalyst for expansion of the area’s non-profits.

“We want people to come in and look and see what we’re doing,” she said. “Come in and ask questions. We have nothing to hide and want to continue to grow. The Miss-Lou area is the reason we are what we do. We wouldn’t be able to do it without (the community). If people just send something in, just a little check, it helps. We appreciate every dollar we get.”

Local government leaders — who aren’t so quick to say the area’s poverty level is increasing — promise brighter days are ahead.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he does not believe Natchez is poorer than in years past, but he said Natchez is still a “very poor community.”

“I definitely think we’re doing a little bit better, but we’re not there yet,” Brown said. “We’ve got plenty of work to do.

“As important as the income level data is the fact that we have programs in place that give a better quality of life in terms of recreational opportunities and job opportunities. Income is only one component of a good, strong quality of life.”

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said new industries planned for the area could help turn around poverty in Adams County.

“There are indicators that the economy could turn around in the Miss-Lou, and I would just hope that people remain optimistic,” Grennell said.

Ferriday Mayor Gene Allen said he believes his town has long suffered from poverty due to a lack of federal aid.

“I don’t think we’re poorer than we used to be, but I think because of the minority population we have been ignored by our Congressional delegation,” Allen said. “I think we need special attention from our Congressional delegation and maybe some kind of stimulus package to promote this area.”

Grennell and Brown both agree that education is the key to helping eradicate poverty.

“An educated population is a healthier population, a more trainable population, and education brings more mobility to the population,” Brown said.

Education, Grennell said, is an important tool people can use to prevent falling into poverty.

“Education is a very important tool not only for our young people but middle-aged people and also seniors, who can get skills they may not have,” he said.

Miss-Lou residents have a perfect avenue to give themselves more opportunities, Grennell said, through Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alcorn State University.

  • Anonymous

    I am so sorry Mr. Hazlip. Please DO NOT feel you are a “sponge”. You have put in your time working, it’s not your fault that there is no business for you. Accept what you need until you get back on your feet. God bless.

  • Anonymous

    Agree 100% rollingontheriver. Hang in there , Mr. Hazlip.
    And the Stewpot is a terrific example of how we should be taking care of the needy in any community. The locals step up and help! With love and compassion. What a wonderful operation the Stewpot is!!! And don’t forget- they accept donations! Remember them this holiday season.

  • Anonymous

    Gene Allen: Really? Yeah, that’s just what we need. More federal assistance. Yeah, that’s the ticket!! Poor, poor, pitiful me! Where is the line for my “guv’ment cheese”? You and your ilk should be more like Mr. Hazlip and the good people at the Stewpot. Give a hand up, and not a hand out!!

  • Anonymous

    Mr Hazlip, I feel your pain. I make less than half what I made ten years ago. At our age it is very hard to get any job much less a good paying job. I just had to cut way back on everything and pray that nothing bad happens. I wish you all the best and good luck.

  • Kimberly Prater

    Gee I wonder why the poverty has risen? 1. Natchez closed down the paper mill and every other factory in the area that provided Jobs!!! Thats why!!!!! Anytime you shut down business’s that provide jobs by the bulk you gain poverty. Maybe you guys should rethink and let the factories return!!!! Trying to turn natchez into a retirement communilty is just not realistic. You got other people in the community too.

  • Kimberly Prater

    Also, natchez needs to think more wisely, retirement age now has went up to 75. So job’s that want to build in the area should be encouraged to move in and build and hire. Chasing off factories for the it taking away from the “natural beauty” just isn’t good enough for the community. Instead of chasing away these places build them out in the country and let them hire.

  • Anonymous

    Grennell needs to promote ELHI education also, many will either not attain GPA to enter college or cannot afford to go to college. Perhaps a round of speakers in the ELHI schools who are jobless and/or unwed mothers, etc. to educate the students on why they should work hard to achieve that education he is touting. Promoting college education is ludicrous for those who are only capable of attaining a trade level job. They need to be educated in trade skills, not pushed to fit the “all A” standard our schools are graded upon today. Make them happier with achievement in school rather than failure and they will excel. Sideline benefit, our industrial workforce will be more skilled and provide a good base to attract industry to the area.

  • Anonymous

    The Stewpot cannot fix this!

  • Anonymous

    The factories such as IP are gone and they won’t return. For them it’s all about the profit margin….Natchez was a loss in the books.

  • Anonymous

    bellemouth1, apparantly neither can Obammy.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s be realistic, and look at a few things.
    * What made industries such as – John Manville, Armstrong Tire, International Paper Company initially decide to locate a plant here, years ago? What was differant then, and what has changed?
    * Our work force here is basically ignorant. Sorry, but that is true. The public school system is a shambles. Why would an industry want to locate to a city that has a poor school system and a sub-standard work force.? Yet that same work-force wants to be paid very well, or they are being mistreated.
    *The government is not the cure – it is the disease. The best form of government is that which governs least.
    *According to the stats in the article, the MS poverty sate has increased by almost 3% since 1999. Now, just what has the “big” government done to help those numbers? What has Obama done for those numbers?
    Oh well, there’s always another grant, somewhere…

  • Anonymous

    curleybutt — tax-the-poor-feed-the-rich — is not going to fix it either. We’ve have 10 years of tax cuts for the “rich” (richer than you could not even fathom). Why don’t you just burn the place down? Then you’ll be right. You’re a self-fufilling prophet.

  • Anonymous

    WhY would I want to burn down a place that I support? Do YOU support them, bellemouth1? And curleybutt…c’mon, really? That’s the besT you can do???- talking about my butt??? LMAO. And , could you answer me just WHY unemployment and poverty continue to grow under your great leader, Obama? And PLEASE- don’y bring Bush into it.

  • bobthebuilder

    and we will take care of all drug/alcohol addicts????? pull yourself together and make a living. you can find a job. may not be what you want to do, but you can find work. obviously if you are drinking and drugging, you have money coming in some way?

  • Anonymous

    A hard fall awaits us in the near future,the free ride and non producers will be over and the US goes bust,it,s coming this next four years,they are going to give it all away. Just aak anybody thats a truck driver,what shape this nation is in,they go all over the US,it,s getting worse every day,less and less jobs,soon they won,t be any taxes being paid,then who,s going to pay for the welfare bums,no tax money,no more jobs,no checks for anybody. Printing trillions of dollars and throwing it away will break us and it,s coming the defecit chart,at some point in time it will be over.

  • Anonymous

    cosmicdust- why is this so hard for some people to comprehend? Man!, we are in TROUBLE! America is not only in a financial meltdown, but a moral and spiritual one, as well.

  • Anonymous

    billyhank i does bleebs dat be “gubmint” cheeze. Mispelers of the world we must UNTIE!!

  • Anonymous

    And there you go Kimberly using common sense again. Do you not know that is not allowed in this area? ha

  • Anonymous

    The income thresholds for defining “poverty” were increased and people are surprised to see the numbers have increased as well? America, the only place in the world where “poverty” and obesity go hand in hand. “Poor” America’s biggest problem is that it is too fat. Think about that.

  • Anonymous

    The “poor” don’t pay taxes so that meme doesn’t work. I pay taxes. I pay them with the money I earned working for rich people. Those people were able to hire me because the money that is my salary doesn’t go to taxes….yet. Every $40,000 a company pays in taxes could have gone to support another job, buy a new piece of production equipment, given to charity, etc. Please, learn some economics. The class warfare you’ve been taught is not only false but destructive to prosperity. Rich people are not Scrooge McDuck, sitting on piles of gold. Their money is generally put to work producing things in the hopes of generating a return. It is loaned to small business, it is loaned to those hoping to buy a car or house. It is invested in businesses and used to hire people. It is used for research and development, at least when the climate is such that they may expect a return on such investments. The more money taken from them in taxes, the less of this they are able to do. The less of that they are able to do, the fewer tax revenues the US has and then start the calls to raise taxes on them even more creating a downward production spiral. Less production, less tax revenues, raise taxes on the rich again leading to less production and less tax revenues. Eventually the wealth that has been a steady source of revenue is gone because the production that created it to begin with has been killed essentially killing what, if treated properly, should be the Golden Goose.

    In short, the ugly and ignorant envy of people like you is killing our country.

  • Anonymous

    Crakalakin, you WILL NEVER be able to convince “those” of what you just posted. To them, the rich are to be punished for being succesful.”Trickle-down”economics is a myth and a lie! The rich must pay more for the sake of the poor having more. I mean,… these types cannot be reasoned with nor do they wish to understand the way our economy works(worked).
    Yes, these ignorant people ARE KILLING this country.

  • Anonymous

    All the spare time they have from not working gives them plenty of time to rob and thieve to produce the drug and drinking money to supplement the entitlements.