What is the Delta?

Moon Lake. Photo by Jacqueline Pierluisi

Moon Lake. Photo by Jacqueline Pierluisi

“Much of what is profoundly American – what people love about America – has come from the delta, which is often called ‘the cradle of American culture.’” ~National Park Service

The Mississippi Delta consists of a number of counties on either side of the Mississippi River in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, that used to be the alluvial floodplain for the river. This land, flat and fertile from years of Mississippi flooding, created the unique agricultural heritage of the region. The Delta counties have many cultural and historical similarities, including the Delta’s claim to be the birthplace of the Blues.

However, the Delta also suffers many persistent and troubling health, economic, and social problems. The following figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Delta Health Alliance show that the Mississippi Delta’s conditions are among the worst in the nation, often on a par with those of some developing countries.

  • Nationally, the percent of individuals living below poverty is 12.4%. This rate is 19.9% in Mississippi and 29.16% in the Mississippi Delta.
  • Nationally, the median annual family household income in 2007 was $50,233. This rate is even lower for the Delta.
  • Nationally, 19.6% of adults do not have a high school diploma. The percentage of adults in Mississippi without a high school diploma is 27.1%, while 36.48% of adults in the Mississippi Delta lack a high school diploma.
  • Nationally, the infant mortality rate is 6.8 per thousand births. The rate in Mississippi is over 10 per thousand, the highest in the nation. The rate is over 17 in some Mississippi Delta Counties.
  • Mississippi leads the United States in its obesity rate (32.8%), the rate of deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease (rates 30% above the national median), and stroke death rate.

Though these alarming statistics tell a grim story about the Delta, it is not the whole story. The Delta is ready for change, and there is a large body of talented and committed people in the Delta anxious to make these changes. The work of Delta Directions, the Delta Fellow, and local partners present a unique opportunity for the region to renew itself as a thriving economic and social system, promoting its rich history and culture.