Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Copyright AjFile
March 8, 2014
Across red-state America, especially in the Deep South, the latest
statistics show that the cycle of poverty, in its many manifestations,
is unchanged and holding firm. Why is this?
It’s easy to say this
is how Republicans like to run states—cutting budgets, not raising the
minimum wage, opposing labor unions. They let the poor and working class
stew in their hardscrabble juices. Meanwhile, they distract voters by
accusing liberals of waging war on the few sources of personal power in
Southerners' difficult lives: their religious beliefs and owning guns.
But go back several decades when segregationist Democrats ruled; for the
most part, they weren’t very different from today’s Republicans.
what is it that perpetuates decades of poverty in the Deep South? What
follows are eight bundles of statistics tracking this latest cycle of
poverty. Could it be that people who historically have been treated
badly, who have little money in their pockets but look to the sky and
pray, expect less from others—including the public and private sector?
Does that explain why red-staters cling to God, gun ownership and a
“leave-me-alone” ferocity? They expect politicians to defend their
values and their pride and little more?
What’s going on
here isn’t entirely political, even if it is used by red-state
Republicans in their personal drive for power and influence. Look at
what the following statistics reveal about red-staters trapped in deep
cycles of poverty. What is the thread that connects lousy governance,
bad health, evangelical religion and firearms fervor?
1. Southern states have the most poor people.
through the widest lense, one sees that America’s sunbelt contains the
poorest states. This is not just because it costs less to live in a
warmer climate. The Department of Agriculture, which measures poverty, found
that every red state in a 2,500-mile stretch from Arizona to South
Carolina along the southern tier had the highest poverty rates in the
U.S. in 2011, between 17.9 and 22.8 percent.
From west to east,
that poverty belt includes Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas,
Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia,
Georgia and South Carolina. As many as one in four Southern children
live in poverty, the Children’s Defense Fund reported earlier this year,
compared to the national average of one in five.
As you would
expect, the vast majority of people falling under the poverty line in
the poorest states do not have white faces—although there are poor
whites. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation compiles
state poverty rates by race. In the poorest states, whites account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the poor.
2. Deep South states have no minimum wage.
work hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re well paid—Southern business
elites and politicians like it that way. Five states have no state
minumum wage, meaning that the federal minimum
of $7.25 an hour and $2.13 for tipped workers is the standard. While
other states have raised these floors, that’s not so for Louisiana,
Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina. These states also
to organized labor, like the entire South. The result is the 10 states with the lowest
average household incomes are mostly southern. Starting at rock bottom,
they are Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, New
Mexico, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
3. Deep South has lowest economic mobility.
love to talk about the American Dream, which of course, is that hard
work will result in a steady climb up the economic ladder. That promise
is least likely across the South, according to the Equality of Economic
Opportunity Project. It mapped economic mobility county by county across
the U.S., and created this map
showing that the South was where children born into poor homes were
least likely to climb the economic ladder. The region’s businesses and
business models overwhelmingly rely on low-wage work.
4. South has lowest per capita spending sy state government.
these private-sector proclivities, one might expect state and local
governments to pick up the slack. While that may be true for education
spending compared to other issue areas, at least as measured
by high school graduation rates, the states that spend the least for
their residents are mostly red states in the South and mountain west.
According to the Kaiser Foundation, per capita expenditures by states in 2011 averaged
$5,385. At the very bottom were Nevada ($3,150), Florida ($3,482),
Missouri ($3,858), Texas ($3,796), Georgia ($4,176), Idaho ($4,212),
Alabama ($4,398), Tennessee ($4,743), and South Carolina ($4,797). Three
Deep South states—Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana—spend more than
the national average, as did West Virginia.
5. Forget about decent preventative healthcare.
it comes to helping low-income households get access to healthcare,
almost all red states, including most of the Deep South, have refused to
do this under Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option
to open enrollment into state-run Medicaid programs for the unisured.
Red-state Republicans have declined, although federal funds pay for more
than 90 percent of this, with the feds paying the entire bill for the
first few years. The Urban Institute mapped
counties with the most uninsured people locked out of Obamacare. The
result looks like a tornado track that starts in Oklahoma and Texas and
goes into Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and North
6. One result: people self-medicate in response.
nature is human nature, regardless of geography. People will find ways
to cope with life’s challenges. But public health statistics show the
personal response in the poorest states produces some bad results. The
Deep South has the country’s highest obesity rates
, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The region has the most cigarette smokers
. It has the highest teen birth
rates. Now, other areas of the country take
the trophy for other vices. But according to Gallup
the pollsters, the states with the most unhappy people are in that Deep
South-Midwest swath: Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri,
Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.
7. Forget the lottery, just pray to Jesus.
Unlike Brandy Clarke’s new song
, “Pray to Jesus, Play the Lotto,” Southerners do not spend
the most on lottery tickets. Massachusetts takes that honor. But the South (and Utah) has the most evangelical
Christians. In Alabama, the third most Christian state (56 percent of residents) and the second most religious state
according to the Pew Research Center, Republicans recently proposed a
state constitutional amendment to put the Ten Commandments in public
buildings. Rep. DuWayne Bridges said school shootings and violent crime
was “due to the Ten Commandments not being displayed.”
politicians like Bridges believe that nonsense is not the point. He is
promoting that pious view because he knows most Alabamans are likely to
have more faith in God than in man, because they are very religious.
That is a consequence of poverty. When people are poor and struggling
and they can’t do too much about it, they seek escapes—overeating,
smoking, doing drugs. Some look for answers in religion. People hold
onto what they can control, such as their beliefs.
It’s no surprise that the poorest states are the most religious. Pew ranked the importance of religion, and found
the 10 most religious states were, in descending order, Mississippi,
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Oklahoma, North
Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. But there other ways people who are
battered by society try to feel personally powerful, which brings us to
8. And hold onto that gun!
The poorest states, which are the most religious, also have the most gun violence. That’s a sad consequence of a widespread gun-owning culture
that goes beyond rural traditions of hunting. Southerners don’t trust
government because Republicans tell them not to, allowing the GOP to do
little to help people live better. Democrats who ruled the South during
segregation drove the same point home. So it’s no surprise that the
poorest states have some of the highest
gun ownership rates and highest rates
of gun-related violence.
The 10 states with the most gun violence, based on federal statistics, are
in descending order, Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi,
South Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia. People who
don’t have much power in the world know that guns are powerful. Like
their religious beliefs, guns steel people against a hard life.
Unfortunately, when people emotionally snap and grab a gun, the result
can be deadly.
Breaking the Cycle?
that difficult to understand the dynamics of voters in the poorest
states electing Republicans who share their religious values and love of
guns—but who won’t do much else to rebalance their state economies. Old
habits are hard to break. If you are used to being treated poorly, that
expectation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If red-state voters
demanded more from their politicians, their employers and the
institutions that perpetuate poverty, the status quo would begin to
unwind and start to shift. Until then, reams of statistics will keep
finding that America’s poorest regions are the same red states, run by
white Republicans, and filled with people who have the blues.
Steven Rosenfeld covers
democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A
Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).
Post a Comment