The plight of the unbanked in the US’s poorest regions is a modern-day scandal in the world’s richest nation. Southern Bancorp is one bank seeking to address the problem. Euromoney goes to the heart of the battle to beat financial exclusion in rural America.
It was once a thriving small city with a rich history that played a part in the civil rights movement and was the home of the blues. Today the population of Clarksdale, Mississippi, is just two-thirds of what it was in the 1970s. Some 40% live below the poverty line.
Twenty minutes-drive away across the state line stands Helena, Arkansas. In the 1940s, the small town was the terminus for the railroad and its 15,000 population made Main Street thrive. Now that number is down to 6,300 – 41% of whom, again, live below the poverty line.
This is the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest regions of the US. While the national poverty rate is about 15%, in most Delta counties it hovers between 35% and 40% – as it has for decades.
Its residents have been disadvantaged many times over: from a history of racial injustice, the steady mechanization of farming that lasted until the late 1980s, the closure of the railroads and the exodus of several key employers. Businesses were shuttered, homes became vacant and, exacerbating it all, many of the region’s banks went under, were sold off or stopped lending.
The national average of unbanked in the US is 7%. In Arkansas, it is 9.7%; in Mississippi, it is a staggering 12.6%. The national average of underbanked is 19.9%, in Arkansas it is 22.6% and in Mississippi 25.5%. These are statistics unheard of in developed countries – let alone in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Article by Helen Avery, courtesy of Euromoney.com.