Increasingly, there are two main paths out of high school in the Delta, and both of them lead to the same place. The biggest employer in the area today is a network of local prisons whose population—of both inmates and guards—is largely African-American and drawn from the Delta’s native sons and daughters.
Gallardo tells me that many Delta residents are too poor to own a computer or get a wired Internet connection, even if their town has a broadband carrier. Smartphones are fairly pervasive, but so are limited data plans, which put a ceiling on their functionality. And besides, Gallardo asks, have you ever tried, say, filling out a job application on your phone? A few months ago, I pulled over at a McDonalds in the Delta town of Marks to use the restaurant’s Wi-Fi. A fellow customer came up to me to ask what kind of computer I was using. She had never seen a Mac before.
In the small Delta town of Ruleville, the only public space with a strong Wi-Fi connection is the public library, open just two days a week. Sharonda Evans, a 16-year-old student at the local high school, tells me that she’s one of the lucky ones in her town: Her family pays $50 a month for a slow connection. “Those who live outside the center of town can’t get Internet access, even if they can afford it,” she says. And as far as I can tell, there are no plans in the works to bring broadband to Ruleville.