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State of the South

The State of the South is MDC’s flagship publication, published since 1996. It became the mission of MDC, through The State of the South, to paint a clear portrait of the region and spell out critical recommendations for economic and social advancement.

The upcoming 2014 edition will examine the challenges facing young people and what that means for the South’s economic future. It will look closely at generational mobility across the region and what it will take to help all young people in the South achieve the American dream. Research has shown that a person is less likely to climb from low-income to high-income in the South than in any other region in the country. In fact, the eight worst big cities for absolute mobility are located in the Southern United States. The State of the South 2014, and its accompanying website, will look at what communities are doing—and need to do more of—to create education-to-career systems that connect young people with good jobs. Starting with data such as demographics, workforce projections, and educational attainment rates, it will highlight long-term programs that connect businesses, educators, government, and young people. After publication, MDC will hold a series of sessions to engage Southern leaders, helping them find a common vision for mobility in their communities. 

This year's edition continues the work of providing key data and ideas for moving the South forward, socially and economically.

In 1996, the first State of the South assembled data on jobs, income, poverty, and education. Its major finding—now an article of faith across the nation—was that education beyond high school is essential to sustaining a middle-class standard of living in the modern economy. In 1998, The State of the South looked particularly at the region’s shifting demography—and earlier than most influential voices, pointed to the immigration of Spanish-speaking people as an opportunity and a challenge for the region.

In 2000, MDC explored the impact of globalization on the American South. The State of the South featured state-by-state analyses of foreign investment and measured the relative robustness of states’ job growth. It pointed out that new technologies were changing the nature of the economy. In 2002, The State of the South updated one of the most influential reports in MDC’s history: Shadows in the Sunbelt, which in 1986 urged Southern states  to address the needs of lagging rural communities and to shift from the “buffalo hunt’’ for outside industries to a broader, more effective approach to economic development. The 2002 report revisited urban-rural gaps and recommended that states modernize their tax systems, develop rural/urban collaborations, and deploy universities and community colleges as catalysts for economic advancement. 

In 2004, The State of the South came on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The report focused on education, specifically the South’s need to re-invent its high schools to propel more students into productive lives as both citizens in a democracy and participants in the economy. The report centered on the observation of former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, who served several years as MDC’s board chair, that “The line that separates the well-educated from the poorly educated in the harshest fault line of all…the only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse.” In 2007, The State of the South illuminated the South’s experience with and need for philanthropic investments. It described philanthropy as the “South’s passing gear.” It found that the South’s increase in wealth should lead to the region’s depending more on in-region philanthropy, and it called on foundations to become more strategic in their grant-making.

The 2010-2011 edition of The State of the South, written in three chapters, examined how, after a “gilded age” that followed the dismantling of legal segregation and the brief rise of a broad middle class, two recessions in a decade exposed structural weaknesses that were never fully addressed. The report says the region must realign its educational systems; emphasis the  importance of postsecondary credentials and their connection to economic wellbeing; and create new leadership and a renewed sense of connection among citizens.