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In The Big White Ghetto

Kevin D. Williamson visits Appalachia, the white-people dystopia. [1]Excerpt:

Like its black urban counterparts, the Big White Ghetto suffers from a whole trainload of social problems, but the most significant among them may be adverse selection: Those who have the required work skills, the academic ability, or the simple desperate native enterprising grit to do so get the hell out as fast as they can, and they have been doing that for decades. As they go, businesses disappear, institutions fall into decline, social networks erode, and there is little or nothing left over for those who remain. It’s a classic economic death spiral: The quality of the available jobs is not enough to keep good workers, and the quality of the available workers is not enough to attract good jobs. These little towns located at remote wide spots in helical mountain roads are hard enough to get to if you have a good reason to be here. If you don’t have a good reason, you aren’t going to think of one.

It has not escaped my mind that all my Little Way localism wouldn’t have amounted to anything if I didn’t come from a good little town. Not a rich town, but a good town. The thing is, I’m sure a lot of these Appalachian towns were once “good” in the same way. It didn’t last. I was driving through a very poor part of my own state last year, and thought about if I had come from one of those dying villages, depopulated and despairing hamlets whose downtowns look like locust husks, would I be living there now? Would I have come home after my sister died? No, I probably wouldn’t have.

More:

“The draw,” the monthly welfare checks that supplement dependents’ earnings in the black-market Pepsi economy, is poison. It’s a potent enough poison to catch the attention even of such people as those who write for the New York Times. Nicholas Kristof, visiting nearby Jackson, Ky., last year, was shocked by parents who were taking their children out of literacy classes because the possibility of improved academic performance would threaten $700-a-month Social Security disability benefits, which increasingly are paid out for nebulous afflictions such as loosely defined learning disorders. “This is painful for a liberal to admit,” Kristof wrote, “but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.”

Many liberals think this sort of thing is some sort of right-wing fable — the idea that adults would cripple their children’s prospects for the sake of more welfare money. I grew up knowing of poor white people in my part of the world who did just that. It wasn’t common, but it happened.

Williamson continues:

There is much here to confound conservatives, too. Jim DeMint likes to say that marriage is our best anti-poverty program, and he also has a point. But a 2004 study found that the majority of impoverished households in Appalachia were headed by married couples, not single mothers. Getting and staying married is not a surefire prophylactic against poverty. Neither are prophylactics. Kentucky has a higher teen-motherhood rate than the national average, but not radically so, and its young mothers are more likely to be married. Kentucky is No. 19 in the ranking of states by teen pregnancy rates, but it is No. 8 when it comes to teen birth rates, according to the Guttmacher Institute, its young women being somewhat less savage than most of their counterparts across the country. Kentucky and West Virginia have abortion rates that are one-fourth those of Rhode Island or Connecticut, and one-fifth that of Florida. More marriage, less abortion: Not exactly the sort of thing out of which conservative indictments are made. But marriage is less economically valuable, at least to men, in Appalachia – like their counterparts elsewhere, married men here earn more than their unmarried counterparts, but the difference is smaller and declining.

In effect, welfare has made Appalachia into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the underclass in place. There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal. It is not as though labor and enterprise are unknown here: Digging coal is hard work, farming is hard work, timbering is hard work — so hard that the best and brightest long ago packed up for Cincinnati or Pittsburgh or Memphis or Houston. There is to this day an Appalachian bar in Detroit and ex-Appalachian enclaves around the country. The lesson of the Big White Ghetto is the same as the lessons we learned about the urban housing projects in the late 20th century: The best public-policy treatment we have for poverty is dilution. But like the old project towers, the Appalachian draw culture produces concentration, a socio­economic Salton Sea that becomes more toxic every year.

There’s a profound, and profoundly depressing, truth here: some people just don’t have what it takes to be anything but poor:

“The government gives people checks, but nobody teaches them how to live,” says Teresa Barrett, a former high-school principal who now publishes the Owsley County newspaper. “You have people on the draw getting $3,000 a month, and they still can’t live. When I was at the school, we’d see kids come in from a long weekend just starved to death. But you’ll see those parents at the grocery store with their 15 cases of Pepsi, and that’s all they’ve got in the buggy — you know what they’re doing. Everybody knows, nobody does anything. And when you have that many people on the draw, that’s a big majority of voters.”

What do you do with people like that? Many of us — conservatives and liberals both — are outraged at the idea that there is nothing that can realistically be done to ease their estate, to deliver them from this kind of grinding suffering. But what if, for some people, it’s true? What if the reality of the situation defeats idealism? What do you do then? Can you do anything that matters? I’m not asking rhetorically; I mean it.

Read all of Williamson’s piece. [1] It’s pretty sobering. What a challenging piece of reporting. Thanks to reader EK for sending it.

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182 Comments To "In The Big White Ghetto"

#1 Comment By Mike On January 10, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

@M_Young

“They are here amnesty or not, so that much at least is irrelevant.”

We’ve heard that all before with Simpson-Mazzoli back in the ‘80s. It sent the signal the US was not really interested in enforcing its immigration laws despite their own citizens’ protests to the contrary. Just like now even though the numbers of illegals are far larger.

How is encouraging illegal immigration via lack of immigration law enforcement on the borders and in the workplace (something as simple as e-verify) as well as municipal “sanctuary city” ordinances (which apparently trump federal law) going to help American citizens across the nation across the nation who cannot find work?

#2 Comment By Ryan Booth On January 10, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

JonF says:
January 10, 2014 at 6:04 am
Re: I’d argue that they are still impoverished, as we understand the term.

As we understand the term Alexander the Great was desperately poor.

Nonsense. For all of human existence except the last 100 years, poverty has meant the state of being unable to have confidence in food, shelter, and clothing. Alexander absolutely didn’t have to worry about those. That is the only objective definition of poverty that makes any sense. (You can throw clean water and basic medical care in the definition if you want to modernize it a little.) Otherwise, the term is meaningless. Read this to get a picture of American “poverty.”

[2]

#3 Comment By Wayward On January 10, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

Having lived in WV once, and in many places since, some of this article is accurate. WV did not have violent crime when I was there, but a lot of drunk driving and some property crime.

There did seem a general acceptance of being on welfare and I had two neighbors with adult kids living, with family in one case, in trailers on their property.

It was by far, the most overtly religious place I ever lived. Maybe church attendance wasn’t that high, but the default assumption was Biblical literalism.

And sadly, all the teeth jokes you hear…well they exist for a reason. Quite shocking, actually.

#4 Comment By arrScott On January 11, 2014 @ 8:47 am

It may seem trivial by comparison, but in my neighborhood we’ve had real success in changing habits and norms – culture – as people from diverse backgrounds have moved in. It’s taught me not to despair about social/cultural problems like those described above. Take dog poo. Five years ago, it became clear that many people moving to the neighborhood were used to letting their dogs poo anywhere and not picking up. Many folks became outraged, and got up petitions to the HOA to enact strict bans and engage in punitive enforcement. There was talk of canine registration and DNA testing of poo and so forth.

Side note: Despite framing the anti-poo objections mainly in terms of the health and safety of children who play outside and who are thus at risk of disease transmitted by dog poo, the enforcement drive pretty much stopped when the annual price tag came in at $20,000. Turns out the “health” of children was not worth $100 per year per household.

But I digress. We’ve almost completely eliminated the problem of people not picking up poo. It took a little negative reinforcement and a lot of positive reinforcement and a few years, but now there’s much, much less incidence of people leaving poo on the grass. The negative reinforcement came mainly via informal, person-to-person efforts. Those of us with dogs who did clean up made a habit of gently confronting people not picking up – less “Hey, asshole, you gonna pick that up?” and more “Hey, I see you’re out of bags to clean up after your dog. Here, I have a spare for you.”

On the positive side, the HOA spent a few thousand dollars to install covered dog poo trash cans with bag dispensers throughout the neighborhood, with a small annual cost to have a service empty the cans and refill the dispensers weekly. Increasing the convenience and ease of behaving properly significantly increased the incidence of people behaving properly.

The lesson I’ve learned is that you can change culture, but only if you’re willing to invest effort in both negative and positive reinforcement. By all means, outlaw abuses and prosecute offenders. The law does shape public morality. But just as important, if not more so, is positive reinforcement. Provide opportunities to do the right thing, or to do better things. Make doing right easier than doing wrong. It takes enforcement, but it also takes encouragement, and it takes time.

#5 Comment By Greg On January 11, 2014 @ 9:39 am

“They are here amnesty or not, so that much at least is irrelevant.”

Yea, those scots irish that came here in the 1700’s are a real problem. If only we enforced our immigration laws. That would fix it.

#6 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 10:00 am

But the boat has sailed and going forward the ACA is the base line and foundation of future changes we may need or want to make

Actually, it is a manifest train-wreck.

#7 Comment By Colleen On January 11, 2014 @ 10:04 am

After living in Kentucky for the longest two years of my life, I can attest that these problems are unbelievably ingrained. I think in many of those neighborhoods the parents see no advantage in their kids being smart or functional, but a huge advantage in their kids earning a lot of benefits. Most of them know that their is no future for their kids but government money. So a hillbilly getting their kids on disability is like a suburban parent getting their kid into an ivy. Locking in their future employment. But what can you do? Sterilize all the hillbillies until birth rate matches jobs rate? Take their kids away to be adopted by people who live in thriving communities? Even if you switch policies to no more checks just bus tickets the heck out of there. They will have the same problems wherever they go. Who anywhere is going to hire a toothless, hick sounding, junky fundamentalist hillbilly with a fifth grade education?

[NFR: The same people who aren’t going to hire a gangsta-sounding, drug-taking, badly educated ghetto dweller. These problems are not primarily problems of race, but of culture. The idea one of this blog’s readers floated, that the junky fundamentalist hillbillies are much better off compared to inner-city blacks because of the color of their skin, is clueless. If you’ve ever lived around these white people, “white skin privilege” is not a concept that would come to mind. In fact, this is where the term “poor white trash” comes from: it is the term country white people use to derogate people of their own race who, in their view (and I have heard this very phrase many times) “live like [N-word, plural].” Is it a racist term? Yes, absolutely. But it carries with it an interesting, if disturbing, connotation: that the people who bear this distinction live by values so degenerate that they are no longer really white people (“white” being a cultural category, not a racial one, if you can believe it). One particularly interesting facet of the “poor white trash” category, as seen from the point of view of whites who impose it on other whites, is that PWTs are usually incorrigibly, even violently, racist. Here’s how that works, or at least worked in the culture in which I was raised as a child; times may have changed: a standard white racist congratulates himself on being able to see the moral worth of individual black people; growing up, I often heard adults use the phrase, “You know, there’s a difference between n—ers and black people,” which was typically a prelude to praising the hard work and moral respectability of some black person they knew. In those white minds, a big difference between themselves and Poor White Trash is the PWT hate black people indiscriminately, and don’t realize that they themselves exemplify what they hate about blacks. In fact, in my recollection, most racist country white people consider PWT to be worse than blacks, because in their view, blacks really can’t help themselves, either by their nature or their experience with slavery and degradation, but dadgummit, PWTs are white, and have no excuse. I should point out that I’m not defending this moral system, only explaining how it works among whites, or at least once did. I don’t know anybody of my generation here who talks or thinks in these categories. Not saying it doesn’t exist, still, in some circles, but rather that I don’t see it. — RD]

#8 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 10:06 am

There did seem a general acceptance of being on welfare and I had two neighbors with adult kids living, with family in one case, in trailers on their property.

Again, the metrics of engagement with the labor market in West Virginia (mean weekly working hours and labor force participation) hug the national means.

And sadly, all the teeth jokes you hear…well they exist for a reason. Quite shocking, actually.

I’ve actually never heard any.

My grandmother defined gentility. She had also by age 75 lost about two-thirds of the teeth on her upper plate. The world used to be a good deal less affluent than it is today, and in her house, the available funds for dental care were expended on that for her children.

The lot of you have it in for the impecunious.

#9 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 10:16 am

And liberal Republicans! Glad you agree! ; )

Politicians have little to do with why we produce more goods and services.

Unemployed and unemployable people (7 year old kids, 95 year old elders, quadriplegic vets, most chromosome disorder births, and so on), by definition, do not and can not ever earn a dime.

No kidding? Whatever the utility or disutility of income transfer programs may be, the recipients generally do have proximate relatives who work.

#10 Comment By Marshall Eubanks On January 11, 2014 @ 10:26 am

What can be done for them? Education. Pour money into the local schools instead of the local prisons (and don’t try and make the local schools into something _like_ prison), and this could be alleviated in a generation.

[NFR: Magical thinking, of a very familiar kind. For education to work its transformative magic, you have to have people of a culture willing to receive it. Human beings are not blank slates. Why do you think Asian immigrants to the US do so well here? Largely it’s because they come from families and local cultures that esteem education, work, and self-discipline. Experience has shown that you can pour massive amounts of money into improving educational facilities and the like, but if the people you’re trying to help will not, for whatever reason, respond to the educational incentives, it does no good. Think of it this way: you could buy pudgy middle-aged me a fancy personal gym and hire a trainer, but if I won’t embrace the exercise program and stay faithful to it, I’m not going to get fit, no matter how much money you spend and effort you expend to make me so. Without reciprocity, effort is futile. — RD]

#11 Comment By JonF On January 11, 2014 @ 10:55 am

Re: Alexander absolutely didn’t have to worry about those.

Alexander came close to starvation and dying of thirst in several of his campaigns (he was a stand-up guy and refused to eat or drink when his men could not). He also died at 32 of what was probably an easily treated illness today (pneumonia apparently, perhaps as a complication of malaria). And though he died of natural causes, if you read the history of his family, both before and after him, he was probably at greater risk of death by violence (quite apart from warfare itself) than a crack dealer in the inner city is today. His grandfather, father, mother, two half-brothers, one step-mother, three sisters, one niece, three nephews, two wives, and one (or maybe two) son(s) all died violently– as did most of his close associates.
The pathologies we associate with the culture of poverty today were once the normal run of human affairs.

#12 Comment By TomB On January 11, 2014 @ 10:57 am

aarScott wrote:

“The lesson I’ve learned is that you can change culture, but only if you’re willing to invest effort in both negative and positive reinforcement. By all means, outlaw abuses and prosecute offenders. The law does shape public morality. But just as important, if not more so, is positive reinforcement.”

Oh, I think you’re deluding yourself mightily here Scott, on what might even be thought of as ridiculous grounds.

Sure, if there’s some exceedingly minor cultural behavior that has no real resonance with any ideas or etc. in the culture maybe a little positive and negative pressure might change it.

But there’s that pressure already against littering generally, or maintaining an unsightly yard/place of habitation, and that pressure ain’t done much.

Wanna talk something real? Dog-related even? Look at the incredible proliferation in low-income/black communities especially I believe from my (admittedly limited) observations of the keeping of pit bull dogs. And then look at the persistence of dog and cock-fighting in some communities.

Now, these dogs are not just pooping everywhere, they are *regularly* mauling other people’s pets, and not at all uncommonly mauling people and then on occasion even killing *children.*

And then I’ve been told by a number of people who live in such communities there’s damn near an impossible ability to keep anything but a vicious dog, and especially not a small dog. Why? Because the non-vicious and especially small dogs are just dog-knapped left and right, with there being lots of evidence that what is then done with them is they are horribly used as training aids for the pit and other fighting dogs in their fighting.

In essence they are plunked into an arena with one of these fighting dogs so that the fighting dog will learn blood-lust by tearing the poor little live creatures into pieces.

As chance would have it just last week I got into a conversation about dogs to a lady who happens to live in such a neighborhood. She has had all three small dogs she has bought over the last 10 years snatched from her backyard, that latest who was being closely observed and who she left alone for no more than 1/2 hour.

You really think your mild little societal pressures and especially your little “positive reinforcements” are going to put a dent in this? Entire neighborhoods being subjected to this and yet not finding the outrage to crack down on it?

Pfui. You go into other poor but not … culturally afflicted areas and consider stealing someone’s dog and you know you’re risking having your ass shot off doing so. Or you even get *suspected* of stealing dogs for use as blood-lust bait and man then you’ll see some *real* “negative social attitudes” displayed towards such people. Maybe to the point of having their truck’s tires regularly shot out.

But that’s the kind of thing that it takes, not some namby-pamby “oh please don’t do that.” You go into *any* of the kinds of communities that I’m talking about and try even gently upbraiding the first person you see walking or harboring a pit-bull or rotweiller, much less calling them an “asshole.” See what happens to you. And see just how long it takes before anyone in that neighborhood calls 911 to assist your bloody ass.

You’re dreaming Scott, just dreaming.

And I’d further note what I at least see as a distinction between the type of community I’m talking about here and the Appalachian type and that is with the latter at least the dysfunctions tend not to be of the afflicting others sort that afflict the former. The “Appalachians” may well be on welfare eternally, and be drunkards or meth users or makers or sellers to willing buyers, and not work, but in general they ain’t out there shooting up their communities like madmen, pimping out their females, stealing like mad from their next-door neighbors and on and on. Even *their* communities don’t stand for that.

So let’s get some perspective on this Appalachian issue too I say. It ain’t pretty, but it ain’t some near phantasmagorical production like you *commonly* see in the inner cities. Not within miles.

#13 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 10:58 am

How is encouraging illegal immigration via lack of immigration law enforcement on the borders and in the workplace (something as simple as e-verify) as well as municipal “sanctuary city” ordinances (which apparently trump federal law) going to help American citizens across the nation across the nation who cannot find work?

Cretins like Jeb Bush, Clint Bolick, and the unidentified Rubio staffer have a low opinion of the non-exotic working class in this country. Cretins like Charles Schumer not only adhere to that view, they augment it by regarding the exotic as preferable in all social settings (‘diversity’) and, of course, useful components of an electoral base. Both are alike in an absence of patriotism and fellow feeling for most of the public. People with degree from prestige colleges are people. Mr. McKellar, appliance repairman resident in Johnson City, Tennessee, is not a fellow citizen but a pair of hands.

#14 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 11:22 am

Contrary to current Red-area myth, consistently Blue areas (successful cities) are now the only major economic powerhouses in the country, because we’ve exported most of our heavy industry. The Puritan ethos of these Blue areas is that the fantastically destructive and innovative super-wealth schemes of their elites are fine, but only so long as they tax themselves highly and flaunt their magnanimity toward the proles.

Just to point out that the states in this country which had the most rapid rates of growth in real domestic product over the period running from 1998 to 2012 were as follows (and in descending rank order):

North Dakota
Oregon
Idaho
Utah
South Dakota
Texas
Arizona
Wyoming
Nevada
Colorado

The only coastal city in this set is … Houston. (But I’ll give you a mulligan and allow you to claim Portland).

#15 Comment By Art Deco On January 11, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

What can be done for them? Education. Pour money into the local schools instead of the local prisons (and don’t try and make the local schools into something _like_ prison), and this could be alleviated in a generation.

And how long have you been employed on the staff of the National Education Association?

#16 Comment By Thrasymachus On January 11, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

The author’s closing question is a painful one, but it highlights an issue that our society will be forced to confront as fewer and fewer of

#17 Comment By Eric Veith On January 11, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

I’ve long been interested in the idea that Poor Whites are arguably the only group that mainstream America still feels comfortable discriminating against. Terms like “white trash,” “redneck,” “hillbilly,” etc are widely tolerated, if not condoned, in public universities, mainstream media, and general society. Could you imagine if similar terms for African Americans, Hispanics, or any other major racial/ethnic group were slung about with the same ease as these?

I lived in southwestern VA for a little under two years. During my time there, it was abundantly clear to me that the people who had grown up there felt discriminated and marginalized by the rest of society. Many of them conceptualized the social state of our country as chiefly a struggle between “city folk” and “country folk.” At the time, I thought this was somewhat small minded. But, the more I learn and observe, the more I’m starting to think they were right.

Mr. Williamson is spot on when he alludes to these people as America’s “underclass.” In the midst of our nation’s efforts to achieve social, racial, and economic equality over the past 50+ years, white rural poverty has been mostly absent from the conversation. Could this be due to our continued acceptance of a rhetoric and attitude that frames the people living there as “uncivilized” and somehow less than human?

#18 Comment By mrscracker On January 11, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

After commenting yesterday about how rough the winters can be in West Virginia,I heard that a friend in the VA mts had died of exposure in the severe cold they experienced recently.He may have had car trouble and tried to walk for help . Very sad.

#19 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 11, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

Re: Contrary to current Red-area myth, consistently Blue areas (successful cities) are now the only major economic powerhouses in the country, because we’ve exported most of our heavy industry

Clearly, you missed the recent energy boom (most prominently in, but not limited to, North Dakota). Pretty much the only counties in the country with positive median income growth in the last five years, are the Great Plains belt (from North Dakota to West Texas), a little bit of central Pennsylvania and maybe West Virginia, and then a bit of South Texas.

[3]

#20 Comment By Julia Duin On January 11, 2014 @ 10:28 pm

I have spent some time in these areas in the past 2 years thanks to my research on pentecostal serpent handlers. What amazed me about southern West Virginia was how it was a ‘food desert:’ there were no fresh vegetables to be had within miles. And people didn’t have gardens there. No, I don’t know why either. I was in McDowell County – one of the poorest. It was so isolated, it took me 2 days to get there. Everyone was on the dole. Most young folks were on drugs and tons of the older ones were dying of black lung. All cemeteries were on the top of hills, so all graves had to be dug by hand. What the author didn’t mention is that this Ky/WV area is dotted with mountain-top removal – a demonic invention if there ever was one. The local politicians could care less if the environment is befouled. The elected officials are on the take from the coal companies. So not only do you have a depressed and beaten-down populace, you have no elected leaders who care about them.

#21 Comment By Darth Thulhu On January 12, 2014 @ 1:50 am

Hector_St_Clare wrote:

Clearly, you missed the recent energy boom (most prominently in, but not limited to, North Dakota).

Nope, didn’t miss it. It flatly doesn’t matter, for two reasons:

1) It won’t last. Today’s resource boomtown is tomorrow’s decaying husk and the day-after-tomorrow’s ghost town. My state (Arizona) was founded with dozens of copper mining boomtowns. Guess where the vast majority of the money is made, today? Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Yuma (aka, the Bluer, more urban parts of the state map).

2) North Dakota could triple its GDP and still be but a speck in the eye of the Left Coast economy, or the BosWash sprawl. Local spikes of extractive industry only affecting a few tens of thousands of people make for nice “percentage increases”, sure, but the aggregate wealth and aggregate income of tens of millions of urban workers easily continue to completely outstrip them.

When the inevitable resource bust follows, as surely as night follows day, North Dakota’s momentary economic bubble will burst as dramatically as it has inflated. Meanwhile, San Francisco and New York and Seattle and Boston and Chicago and Los Angeles will continue to swim in higher per capita incomes, and will continue to grow vastly higher aggregate federal tax receipts.

#22 Comment By Darth Thulhu On January 12, 2014 @ 1:56 am

Art Deco wrote:

Whatever the utility or disutility of income transfer programs may be, the recipients generally do have proximate relatives who work.

Except when they don’t. Then they’d die. The isolated jobless certainly used to, with regularity, in any downturn. Now they don’t, and don’t ever come close, due to programs passed by liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans.

You don’t even pretend to convincingly argue the point.

#23 Comment By Darth Thulhu On January 12, 2014 @ 2:24 am

Art Deco wrote:

the states in this country which had the most rapid rates of growth in real domestic product over the period running from 1998 to 2012 were as follows

North Dakota
Oregon
Idaho
Utah
South Dakota
Texas
Arizona
Wyoming
Nevada
Colorado

The only coastal city in this set is … Houston.

Who said anything about coastal? Also, who said anything about state? It has been repeatedly made clear that the Blue areas of the country are almost directly clustered to urban centers, in every relevant state. Please stop dishonestly changing the subject.

What I cited was Blue and urban, (which are frequently synonymous), not coastal. In your list, the Blue areas are Austin, Boise, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, El Paso, Flagstaff, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Pueblo, Reno, Salem, Salt Lake, San Antonio, Tucson, and Yuma.

Other than the Dakotas and Wyoming, the other seven are significantly purpling overall as their urban areas shift Bluer and Bluer in the recent decades. Utah and Idaho start from a blood-Red Mormon baseline, of course, but the wealthiest areas within those states are by far the least Red.

And while the Dakotas and Wyoming aren’t all that Blue, and aren’t Bluing much, each and every one of them has a population and an economy significantly smaller than the mid-size city I reside in. All of them combined have an economy far smaller than very-Blue Houston. When 1000 new decent (but temporary) jobs send a State’s GDP surging, the State isn’t all that impressive an example. Their brief fling with one or two decades of resource extraction wealth isn’t remotely impressive, and it won’t endure. Saudi Arabia likewise has a glut of current extractive wealth, but no one pretends their economy isn’t a basket case cruising for a crash when the wells begin to run dry.

#24 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 12, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

Darth Thulhu,

There isn’t going to be a resource bust, when it comes to energy. Oil supplies are not renewing themselves, and I doubt any other energy source will ever be quite as cheap as oil is right now, so the prices are going to go up, at least for a while, and are never going to be as low as they’ve been in the past.

New York City and Connecticut, on the other hand, would be gut-shot if, for example, we enter a stage of prolonged economic crisis that ended with the government nationalizing most or all of the finance and insurance industries. (Socialism in America is just about inconceivable, I admit, but then, we live in strange times and stranger things have happened. Not long ago, a Black president with a Muslim name was inconceivable too). I don’t think economic growth in ‘blue’ urban areas is as inevitable as you think it is.

As for metro Seattle, you realize it’s just a tad above metro Detroit on the income list?

[4]

#25 Comment By Art Deco On January 12, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

I do not know how you got the idea that Dallas / Fort Worth, Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City (three of which sprawl over several counties) are ‘blue’ areas. Nor do I know why you would put a metropolis of the smallest dimension like Salem, Oregon or Flagstaff, Ariz on a list with cities twenty or forty times it’s size.

[5]

As for the rest, I am glad you are pleased with the efficacy of the Democratic Party and Richard Florida’s mascots at ‘purpling’ the country. The Republican Party has managed its best back-to-back performance in eight odd years in recent elections to the House of Representatives and I imagine their campaign hacks are hoping to keep you equally satisfied in the future.

[NFR: Dallas County has been majority Democratic for years now. The Republican power lies in the suburbs, esp Collin County to the north. — RD]

#26 Comment By Art Deco On January 12, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

You don’t even pretend to convincingly argue the point.

You have yet to figure out the point I am arguing.

#27 Comment By Art Deco On January 12, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

I was in McDowell County – one of the poorest. It was so isolated, it took me 2 days to get there. Everyone was on the dole.

Everyone? Every single person? For the record, about 42% of all personal income in McDowell County arrives from transfer payments, public insurance, &c. (The national mean is 17%). Someone in that county must be working.

Here you have a region with 19 million people living in it sprawled over 10 states and here you have Kevin Williamson schlepping around in a county with 4,700 people it and notable for having the highest ratio of transfer payments to earnings of any county in Kentucky and here we have you schlepping about in another county with 21,000 people in it where 78% of the population left after the closure of local coal mines and you both fancy that you have learned something of the essence of the other 18,975,000 living in Appalachia. I love it.

#28 Comment By Dan Berger On January 12, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

if you’ve ever been to a WalMart you’ve probably seen some white people who really look quite different from typical middle-class white people. It’s not just the way they dress or act. I think I’ve heard it sometimes has to do with inbreeding, but I’m not sure that’s true.

I’d say it’s largely a function of a chronic lack of sleep and an almost complete lack of dental care of any description.

Lack of sleep comes from the fact that they have to work long hours if they are to make enough money for minimal survival — one way or the other. Either they have to work two or three jobs, or they have to spend time waiting in offices to fill out paperwork for the dole because their Wal-Mart job doesn’t pay enough to live on.

And dental care is a luxury, one that we in the middle and upper classes take entirely too much for granted. These people not only have no orthodontic work — a commonplace among the straight-toothed classes — but don’t even have the wherewithal to get their cavities filled. They can get extractions of rotten teeth. Maybe.

Poor eating habits don’t help, either; I’ve personally seen poor children of preschool age, with rotten teeth.

#29 Comment By Jay On January 13, 2014 @ 3:55 am

The same people who aren’t going to hire a gangsta-sounding, drug-taking, badly educated ghetto dweller. These problems are not primarily problems of race, but of culture. The idea one of this blog’s readers floated, that the junky fundamentalist hillbillies are much better off compared to inner-city blacks because of the color of their skin, is clueless.

(Although the trendiness of this thread has come and gone) I think you completely misunderstood my original point, which is my fault as I didn’t really take (or have) the time to write it more carefully.

My point isn’t that it is easy to get by if you are poor and white, or that poor white people in this country have it easy. Indeed, the article illustrates just the opposite. My point (where I think we are actually more in agreement than you think) is that the way our society is structured there are people who are doomed to be left behind. And these Appalachians are a case in point.

When I said that there aren’t any structural impediments hindering them I wasn’t denying the cruel way we treat our poor and our cultural outcasts. But the fact remains that there weren’t explicit structural barriers thrown up to keep them down. No slavery, no Jim Crow, no legalized segregation, no quotas for Appalachians at the University of Kentucky, no closing schools rather than allowing mountain folk to attend, no lynchings, no sundown laws for residents of West Virginia, none of that. And yet, these people are in the hole they are in regardless. The point I was trying to make is that people are being left behind even when we aren’t intentionally setting things up to hold them back.

So, what should be done? I would say three things:

1. Make sure everyone has a basic safety net, so that nobody starves or is homeless or doesn’t have access to medical care.

2. Make sure that people have equal access to our public institutions. Voting, education, the courts, etc.

3. Concentrate on making sure that each member of each generation of children has an equal opportunity (not outcome, but opportunity) to succeed. This means both making sure that children are as protected as possible from the terrible decisions of their parents and also not having institutions that reward and reinforce the natural desire of the well-off (of which I am as guilty as anyone else) to obtain a dominant advantage for their possibly less-talented children. (I can want the deck to be stacked for my kids but that doesn’t mean society should help me do it.)

In the case of these poor Appalachians we do (1) passably well (except for medical care, which is the point of the ACA), (2) not very well, and (3) terribly. To address my comment about structural disadvantages of various groups one more time, I would suggest that for other groups they suffer even more in these areas because of implicit and explicit factors, especially the second. (As far as I know, there are no voter access laws, for instance, specifically aimed at the rural poor.)

And so, when you ask what can be done for these people I would suggest first that it should be things that address these three concerns and second that the answer isn’t “nothing.”

#30 Comment By Travis Mason-Bushman On January 13, 2014 @ 7:48 am

Hector,

There certainly will be a bust when it comes to *a given particular resource extraction area* – because inevitably, that area’s resource becomes fully exploited, production peaks and falls off, investment fades out and the

Alaska is currently confronting the decline of the North Slope oil fields, which has resulted in plunging state revenues and increasing political turmoil – the gravy train is coming to an end.

So, too, will it come to an end in North Dakota. The only question is when.

#31 Comment By Art Deco On January 13, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

Earnings from mining account for about 1.2% of personal income nationally. Such earnings account for just north of 7% in North Dakota and Alaska. So, these economies are abnormally dependent on extractive industries. However, much else is produced there.

#32 Comment By redwood On January 11, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

Poverty will never actually be eliminated any more than crime can be actually eliminated. It’s good that someone is writing about white poverty. There are more poor whites than poor minorities because the minority population is small in certain states. Politicians of every party should discuss helping as many people as possible to get out of poverty, regardless of race.