Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Look Away, Dixie Land

 For Southern nostalgia buffs who like to sing "Dixie," here's something to consider: that "land of cotton" the song mythologizes is with us still, though not in ways that would make a person long to go there. The Daily Yonder, one of my favorite websites, has a story today on "persistent poverty counties" as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When it comes to rural poverty, the original Cotton Kingdom, also known as the Black Belt because it contains a high number of counties where African Americans are an overwhelming majority of the residents, shows up in vivid green as a a band of overwhelming rural poverty.. I recommend you click on the link to see the map; it leaps out at you. It's worth noting that the other striking pattern of rural poverty is in--who woulda guessed?--Appalachia.

The South doesn't have a monopoly on rural poverty, but it's close: it has 84 percent of the total. According to the USDA report, "There are no non-metro persistent poverty counties in the Northeast, 29 non-metro persistent poverty counties in the Midwest, and 20 in the West. The remaining 252 ...are in the South."  If you live in the rural South, there's about a one-in-four chance that you will be living in poverty.

Seventy-five years after FDR called the South "America's Economic Problem Number 1" and 45 years after Robert Kennedy toured Appalachia, some things haven't changed. The big thing that has changed is the difficulty facing the people who live in these counties: in 1968, the difference between the poorest and the richest in this country had been poking along at about the same rate for decades; starting in the 1980s, the rich started getting richer, and that trend has been accelerating ever since. It's no wonder that the Honey Boo-Boos of the South exist; the wonder is that they manage to be so darn cheerful. 

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