Thank you for that kind introduction. I also want to thank Hope Enterprise Corporation for inviting me to speak and Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) for hosting us on its lovely campus.
It is a great pleasure to visit the Mississippi Delta. This region gave America the priceless musical heritage of the Blues. It was also the site of some of the watershed events of the civil rights movement. But the Delta, like many rural areas, has long confronted the challenge of poverty. Today I'll speak about three areas of opportunity for addressing the challenges of rural poverty‑‑education and workforce development, entrepreneurship and small business development, as well as access to financial services--the topic of this conference.
MVSU's mission, providing young people an affordable college education, is itself a very powerful antipoverty program‑‑for its graduates, of course, but also for other communities that are touched by the university. MVSU opened its doors in 1950 as Mississippi Vocational College. The vocation of every member of its first class of 200 students was teaching. And even as it added other programs and became a full-fledged university, MVSU has continued to train many of the teachers who enrich, inspire, and spark the imagination of children who grow up in the Delta.
MVSU and other historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, play a crucial role in their communities. For much of the 20th century, HBCUs were the primary means for black men and women to obtain the education needed for middle class or professional jobs. Larger percentages of HBCU students, compared with students at predominantly white institutions, come from lower-income families and are the first in their families to attend college. This university and other HBCUs support intellectual leadership, creativity, and innovation. I want to honor you for this proud history and for your continuing commitment to a better future for your students and for the region where many of your students were born and will build their lives and raise their families.1
Challenges and Opportunities in Poor Rural CommunitiesToday, data at the national level show a strong economy. Unemployment is near a half-century low, and economic output is growing at a solid pace. But we know that prosperity has not been felt as much in some areas, including many rural places. The Federal Reserve can help by carrying out our monetary policy mission of supporting maximum employment and price stability. We also support strong communities by conducting research, promoting community development, and enforcing laws like the Community Reinvestment Act, which helps ensure that people have adequate access to financial services wherever they live. We not only work with communities, we are in communities, through the presence of our 12 regional Reserve Banks.