Of the roughly 6,300 residents living in East Biloxi as of the 2010 Census count, 40 percent are African American, 39 percent are white, 11.4 percent are Asian and 9.3 percent are Hispanic. Several of the area’s indicators of wellbeing are below city- and county-wide averages. For instance, on average, households earn about $31,652 a year in gross income, but a high concentration, or 1 out of every 4 households (26 percent), earns less than $15,000 per year. This compares to a citywide average household income of $47,000.
Consequently, East Biloxi experiences a much higher poverty rate than city, county or statewide rates, with at least 1 out of 3 households living in poverty (32 percent), compared to a citywide average of 13 percent. More than one-third of East Biloxi children under age 18 live in a household receiving Supplemental Security Income, Cash Public Assistance Income, or income from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Of these children in homes receiving subsidized assistance, 6 out of 10 live with a single parent—40 percent in households headed by a single mother and 20 percent in households headed by a single father.
A lack of basic amenities in East Biloxi makes it harder for struggling families. The Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service identifies two food deserts in East Biloxi, meaning that access to a supermarket or to a large grocery store is extremely limited. Vulnerable populations suffer the brunt of these lacking resources. One in five residents living in low-food access areas are also low income. One-quarter of the population with low food access is ages 0-17 and 18 percent are elderly, ages 65 or older. Effects of distressed economic conditions lead to other barriers in accessing resources. About 17 percent of the food desert population lives in households without a vehicle and public transportation routes are very limited in East Biloxi.
Single parents are thrown into impossible circumstances with a severe shortage of childcare options. Early child care providers in East Biloxi are only able to serve 22 percent of children under five years of age at full capacity and regularly have more children on waiting lists than on rosters. A lack of child care reduces employment options for a parent.
Broad economic conditions are outside of an individual’s control, but directly influence their immediate circumstance. This is most pronounced in lower income neighborhoods. Unemployment levels among those 16 years or older in East Biloxi surpass citywide levels and more than double national rates, reaching more than 18 percent in some neighborhoods. Areas in Biloxi where unemployment is highest also experience the highest poverty rates, the highest concentration of single mothers and the highest rate of adults without a high school diploma. Lower educational hinders East Biloxians’ employment options, with seven in 10 residents over 25 years old lacking education beyond high school.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of East Biloxi. Many residents were displaced and a large portion did not return after the state lagged in providing assistance to low income homes. Of those who stayed or returned, economic recovery is still propositional. Areas that were once populated with residents and commerce remain empty. Several major employers, including casinos, hotels and restaurants, did not return to East Biloxi.
As East Biloxi was slowly picking up the pieces, the Great Recession in 2008 delivered another devastating blow. When economic growth and strong financial markets were needed most in the wake of total natural destruction, the housing bubble led to international economic downturn. Katrina had stunted what had been a growing interest in Biloxi among developers and investors. But the 2008 recession chilled economic markets and diminished the chances of meaningful investment in East Biloxi beyond federal and state recovery assistance.
As signs of basic recovery slowly surfaced, a fatal explosion on the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil rig lead to a massive 87-day oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Officials began closing large portions of Gulf waters, leaving many East Biloxians without work. The oil disaster devastated commercial fisherman, causing immediate economic losses and environmental degradation. As daily national media coverage show oil being washed up on the shoreline, regional tourists that traditionally fed the Gulf Coast’s busy season started vacationing elsewhere. Hotel occupancy and retail activity dropped, pulling markets down further than what Katrina and the Recession had already caused. Multiplier effects of the spill’s negative economic impacts spread to all industries and occupations along the Gulf Coast.
Similar to the aftermath of Katrina, economic recovery from the oil disaster was slow and individuals who suffered losses remain mired in settlement processes. East Biloxi’s commercial fisherman are unsure about the future of Gulf waters and whether planned restoration projects will be effective. Tourism businesses are combining efforts to attract more visitors. In East Biloxi, however, uncertainty about economic recovery and persistent community distress have left large commercial investment projects unfinished and abandoned on prime beachfront real estate.
With many complex issues ahead, the EBCC seeks a deeper understanding and pursues meaningful opportunities to improve short- and long-term outcomes for East Biloxians.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2010, Selected tracts and block groups; Summary File 1, Table P 1; Table B19001; Table B09010; SF 1, tables H4, H16, H17, QT-P11 and ACS S0802. Selected tracts are 1, 3, 36, 39. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Food Desert Locator,” Federal Information Processing (FIPS) Tract Identifier, 28047000100 and 28047000200; Data available via, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator/go-to-the-locator.aspx.