Mississippi state Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr., a Jackson Resident, told CNN that by Tuesday, his family had running water, but it was discolored and unsafe to drink.
“This is something that has been occurring for years, but sometimes it takes these catastrophes to make sure that this disaster comes to light,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know about Mississippi’s capital city, and why this crisis has hit at a particularly devastating point in its history.
Unlike other Sunbelt cities, Jackson’s population has steeply declined
While other cities in the South have seen their populations swell over the past decade, Jackson is one of just a few major cities in the region that have experienced a sharp population decline, dipping more than 10% in the past decade. Jackson has just over 150,000 residents, down from nearly 200,000 in 1990.
The city has undergone drastic demographic changes
Jackson’s population decline has led to dramatic demographic changes, driven almost entirely by White flight. The city was 56% Black in 1990, but by 2020, more than 80% of the city’s residents were Black. In 1997, the city elected its first Black mayor, but by 2000, the city’s White population was rapidly dwindling, down by 16% from the decade before.
According to the Mississippi Urban Institute’s report, Black residents have had to bear the brunt of the city’s water crisis.
“There is still the need to equalize the delivery of water services in the older, underserved areas of Jackson, which are predominantly occupied by Black and low-income residents,” the report says, adding that the aging water lines in these areas were the ones “most likely to fail, causing inordinately high maintenance cost.”
Household income has shrunk, while nearby suburbs have boomed
Jackson’s median household income has shrunk as its demographics have shifted. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, with 18.7% of residents living below the poverty line — but in Jackson, that figure is higher still at 24.5%.
Jackson’s population is aging, becoming more vulnerable to the effects of the city’s failures
Another effect of Jackson’s demographic changes is the size of its older population. As the overall population decreases in the city, and fewer new residents take root in the state’s capital city, the share of Jackson’s population that is made up of people over 60 years old has slowly crept upward. The effects of unclean, unusable drinking water could be especially pronounced for the city’s older residents, who may have compounding health issues, and may not be able to wait in long lines for bottled supplies or easily leave their homes.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to increase the quantity of the water which will ultimately get the tanks more full and ultimately lead to a scenario in which we can do the proper testing and actually produce clean water,” the governor said. “But we’re not there yet.”
CNN’s Nicquel Terry Ellis also contributed to this report.