This post was written by Jonathan Berlin
A compelling argument has been made by intellectuals and statiticians, highlighting poverty in America. Although many in America’s black community are not well off, it appears that the worst off group, the “poor whites” that live in deindustrialized towns (a cause of free trade) are the doing worse.
The Article, Ignored: Poor Whites has taken the internet by storm.
From the Miami Herald’s reporter Leonard Pitts, Jr. comes this revelation:
“As it turns out, our deeply racialized view of poverty bears no resemblance to reality. Though it’s true that African Americans are disproportionately likely to live below the poverty line, it is also true that the vast majority of those in poverty are white: 29.8 million people. In fact, there are more white poor than all other poor combined.
Owsley County (Booneville is the county seat) is the epicenter of that poverty. Median income here is less than $20,000. The obesity rate is 50 percent. Life expectancy: 71.4 years, more than seven years below the national average. With 36 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line and 98.5 percent of its population identifying as white, it is the poorest — and one of the whitest — places in America.”
Leonard Pitts is black and so his commentary on poor whites is even more fascinating as it reveals an honest reflection on the issue and a coming to grips with the falseness of the national narrative on poverty. There is a recognition that the dynamic of the conversations about poverty must change, while still acknowledging challenges of race in America.
Reed slumped, his voice wound down and his eyes closed for a few seconds before he re-emerged and apologised. The body of a young woman had been found on the edge of Tchula by deer hunters, he said. He should have been in bed but the call came in just as he got off work from a night shift at his other job as a part-time policeman in a neighbouring town.
In Tchula, even the police chief works two jobs to make ends meet.
“It’s a pretty cool town. Tchula’s not a mile long nor a mile wide. You can go anywhere in Tchula in less than five minutes. Anywhere. What I like about it is it’s family based. People at least still care enough to be concerned about their neighbour and that kind of thing, and that’s impressive to me,” said Reed.
“But there’s not a lot of money. There’s not a lot of jobs. I’ve worked in so many other [police] departments that had so much more. We don’t have a tax base. We don’t have the stores. We don’t have commercial development. We’re trying to clean up the town so hopefully people will be impressed enough to bring some jobs.”
Tchula straddles the old road north between Jackson, Mississippi – final stop of the 1961 civil rights Freedom Ride against segregation – and Nashville, Tennessee. The same road carried the guitarists and singers who made Tchula a hub of the blues as they travelled north to seek fame in Chicago.