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Rural Poverty and the Left

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Lauren Gurley has a really good post on why the left doesn’t talk about rural poverty.

Lisa Pruitt, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, studies the intersection of law and rural livelihoods. She also runs a site called the Legal Ruralism Blog, where she writes about the problem of rural American poverty. Pruitt grew up in a working-class rural Newton County in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. She tells Rural America In These Times that one important misconception about rural poverty is that it is an exclusively white problem. While the majority of rural Americans struggling with poverty are white, Pruitt says, the racial makeup of the rural poor is far more diverse than the image most Americans realize.

“We tend to associate rural poverty with whiteness,” Pruitt says. “When we think about rural poverty, most associations with rural poverty are with white populations and in fact, that is true to some extent but it’s actually far from being monochromatic.”

The demographics of poverty in rural and urban America are quite similar. Though whites make up the majority of both metropolitan and non-metropolitan populations in the United States—resulting in a higher numbers of whites living in poverty—poverty rates throughout rural America are much higher among the rural minority population. According to the 2013 American Community Survey, 40 percent of blacks living in non-metro counties fall below the poverty line, compared to 15 percent of whites. Poverty rates among non-metro Hispanics and American Indians are also considerably higher than they are among whites.

This popular association between rural American poverty and whiteness is key to understanding why the media, and liberal America as a whole, doesn’t talk about rural American poverty. While black poverty in the United States is attributed to the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, incarceration, and other forms of institutionalized racism, we have no national narrative that explains white poverty. As a result, there is an implicit belief that whites—who have benefited from all of the advantages that come with being white—don’t have a good reason to be poor. In other words, that when whites live in poverty, it is their fault, or even their choice.

Since the 1960s, the current U.S. economic system has had as a constant feature 15 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

She also tags the field of sociology as ignoring rural poverty for an intense discussion of urban poverty. I can’t really speak to that field very much, but it certainly sounds right. And there’s no question that is reflected on the political left, where few people take these questions seriously. Sometimes, I feel like I am one of the only bloggers consistently talking about these issues, whether on the reservations or Appalachia.

Now, we all know that taking rural poverty seriously and suggesting that the decline of good jobs for the American working class is a bad thing makes you history’s greatest monster, as Paul Theroux discovered recently. And I think the fact that people like Annie Lowrey, Dylan Matthews, Matt Yglesias, etc., really seem to know nothing at all about rural America is quite telling. They have no sense of just how brutal rural poverty is in the United States, not only in the South and Appalachia but in the Hispano villages of New Mexico, the small towns of the Midwest, and especially the Indian reservations, where the poverty actually does remind me of rural Latin America, if not Africa. Seriously, if you’ve never been to Pine Ridge or the Navajo Nation, it really is like going to another, very, very, very poor country. It would do these people a ton of good to get out of the coastal cities and go spend time in McDowell County, West Virginia, Mora County, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation. Maybe they would actually know something about American poverty if they did.

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  • Brian

    I think that the level of poverty in Native Villages in Alaska is not only not spoken of, but is largely unknown to most in the United States.

    There are places in this country whose soul form of sewage treatment is the “honey bucket” and sewage lagoons.

    That is some third world stuff right there.
    http://watersewerchallenge.alaska.gov/

    • DrDick

      There are Indians in rural Oklahoma who have no toilets except the woods.

    • Katya

      My childhood pediatrician was looking to hire a younger partner into his practice. He specifically wanted someone who had worked on a reservation, because they would have experience with otherwise nearly eradicated childhood diseases, including, at the time, pertussis.

      Urban poverty is truly miserable, but rural poverty can be just as terrible in its own way. Frankly, I think the reason that rural poverty is less talked about is because it’s harder to see–urban poverty is quite visible, with homeless people on the streets, etc. And there are more people around to witness urban poverty.

      • Frankly, I think the reason that rural poverty is less talked about is because it’s harder to see–urban poverty is quite visible, with homeless people on the streets, etc. And there are more people around to witness urban poverty.

        If you’re in a major metropolitan city and you restrict your on-the-ground travel, yes. But not all sociologists are located in metropolitan areas and they aren’t all from metropolitan areas.

        I don’t know, is D.C. just weird? You can’t get to the beach without passing through areas of rural poverty. If you vacation in mountains, ditto.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I don’t know, is D.C. just weird? You can’t get to the beach without passing through areas of rural poverty. If you vacation in mountains, ditto.

          Not if you helicopter there!

  • Crusty

    Just a gut feeling, but I think that some people have a subconscious sense that as long as poverty isn’t accompanied by the risk of being a victim of violent crime, it isn’t that big a deal. When we think of urban poverty, we think of crime ridden ghettos. When we think of rural poverty, we think, well, they don’t have much, but its no big deal, its rural, they can kill an animal to eat, it isn’t really that bad.

    • DrDick

      You and they have obviously never spent time in these areas of rural poverty. Drugs (especially meth and oxycotin) and violence are rampant, for the same reasons they are in the ghettos.

      http://science.time.com/2013/07/23/in-town-versus-country-it-turns-out-that-cities-are-the-safest-places-to-live/

      http://www.citylab.com/crime/2013/07/youre-more-likely-die-violent-death-rural-america-city/6312/

      • Crusty

        1) I have spent time in the Navajo Nation.

        2) I don’t think there’s no violence.

        3) I think there’s a perception that while its poor, its rural and everyone’s friendly and its nice and relaxed, as compared with an urban ghetto.

        To recap, I think there’s a perception that rural poverty isn’t accompanied by violence and therefore isn’t all that bad. I didn’t say anything at all about whether that perception is correct.

        You are aptly named.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Yes, there is the perception that “white privilege” overcomes all the disadvantages of poverty. While it is undoubtedly worse to be poor and black in the US than poor and white being poor and white still sucks.

        • DrDick

          So I am an asshole because your comment was unclear? Good to know. You are also well named.

          • Crusty

            You’re just an ass hole generally because you always take the time to one up anyone and everyone with your smugness and holier than thouness and don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt that maybe they’re as righteous as you.

            Tell us more about the wonderful things you teach in your Race and Ethnicity class and how wonderful a guy you are and your modest beginnings. They top everyone else and are inspiring.

            If my comment is unclear, just ignore it.

            • The Dark Avenger

              Your snarky anecdotal reply to DrDick’s citation of statistics tells us all we need to know about your expertise in this field.

              • Crusty

                I don’t purport to be an expert in the field.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  From the statistical evidence, that would appear to be an understatement.

                • Crusty

                  You’re arguing against something that I’m not arguing. But whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

              • brugroffil

                I thought Crusty’s first post was pretty clear and didn’t understand what DrDick was being, well, a dick about.

                • Rob in CT

                  Seconded, Crusty was pretty clear he was arguing against a misconception.

                  But then, unfortunately, Both Sides Did It from then on.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Yeah, I thought it was perfectly clear.

                  That ought to teach Crusty to speculate on the thought process of people the OP tried to get us to consider.

                • I agree that it was easy to interpret, but if you kinda skipped the first line, I can see how the misreading happens. I find myself sometimes latching on to part of a comment as I skim though many. If I’m writing on the phone I may not see the whole comment.

                  The escalation seems disproportionate and deliberately so, so oh well.

            • You’re just an ass hole generally because you always take the time to one up anyone and everyone with your smugness and holier than thouness and don’t give anyoneme the [undeserved] benefit of the doubt that maybe they’re as righteous as you.

              BTW, you shifted from “some people” to “we”. I get that you meant a sorta generic “we” or a we that referred to “some people” (which didn’t include you, but it is an understandable misreading.

              • Crusty

                Fair enough, but you didn’t take the opportunity to jump on me and in the process, build yourself up, which is what Dr Dick likes to do because he’s always spoiling for a fight with anyone he deems less righteous.

                • Well, I don’t know. It seems equally possible and more charitable that he kinda skimmed over the first bit, read the second bit, and reacted. The sentiment you were exploring is pretty factually challenged and he “merely” provided facts against it.

                  I get it that you don’t like his general manner, but I really think your counter reaction was a bit too much (in the sense, that I would have tried to replied merely with “Yes, I know. I don’t share that belief, but it is common and I’ve heard it expressed many times.”

                  Anyhoo.

                • DrDick

                  And, as usual, Bijan nails it. If you had responded like a reasonable person, instead of an asshole, I would have apologized for misreading it.

                • Crusty

                  So, you give yourself a pass on being an asshole, but expect more from me. Got it.

                  In any event, I don’t believe that you would have apologized. You’re a jerk around here. You like jumping on people you don’t deem sufficiently on your side, righteous, etc.

                • DrDick

                  So, you give yourself a pass on being an asshole, but expect more from me. Got it.

                  Actually, I did not think I was being an asshole and did not intend it that way. You never distanced yourself from that perception in any way and I was merely pointing out that reality was much different. Evidently I was wrong about you, but my comment remains true for those you were referring to. Your automatic assumption that my statement was an attack says a lot about you.

                • Crusty

                  Nobody ever thinks they’re being an asshole. So what?

                  An attack? Not really, just dickish, and others noticed it too and agreed.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            And this is how we got to a million comments!

            • Crusty

              I’m happy to do my part.

            • advocatethis

              This is where a simple “like” or “up vote” button would be valuable. Instead I have to give another nudge toward two million.

              • joe from Lowell

                Agreed.

      • My in-laws live in a part of Southern Ohio that is very much Appalachia.

        It’s pretty rough down there. I see a lot of burned out house trailers that make me wonder if it was a meth lab gone bad.

        My brother-in-law is always afraid someone will try to break into his storage shed and steal his 4-wheelers and tractor.

        • Linnaeus

          Every year for the past twelve years or so, I go to a history meeting held at the University of Washington’s marine biology labs at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. A very beautiful place, and of course quite rural. The only town of any size is Friday Harbor, and its population is only a couple thousand. After that, there’s not a whole lot, once you get past the houses owned by people wealthy enough to afford waterfront property. The local economy is very dependent on tourism.

          Anyway, you used to be able to go in and out of buildings on the grounds of the laboratories (with the exception of the laboratories themselves) pretty freely and some of the rooms had equipment like computers that were just sitting there available for use. Several years ago, I noticed that there were more locks on doors (which you opened with a keypad code) and more of the equipment was locked down. This was in response to a rash of thefts at the laboratories, which was related to the significant meth problem that had developed on the island. Almost no one saw it coming, and maybe no one really could, but no one was looking, either.

        • gmack

          As it happens, I grew up in the area (my mother taught in the Huntington school district, which at the time was the poorest or second poorest in the state; she also knew the author of Knockemstiff–the town was in her district). Like all stereotypes, the ones about Appalachia are oddly contradictory: We are romanticized Davie Crocketts, backwards inbred extras from Deliverance, and meth heads, all at the same time. When I was in college in Athens (fairly close to my home town), a few of my professors used my home town as a metonym for “underprivileged/backwards place.” When they wanted to reach for an example of a place where people didn’t grow up in suburban privilege, or in other cases, a place that was racist, they would name-check my home town.

          I don’t begrudge any of this, exactly, but it is worth remembering that lots of different kinds of people live in these places.

    • Karen24

      This. I also think lots of suburbanites have this foolishly romantic idea that rural poverty is like Hobbitton, where people with charming accents work on charming farms or in charming gardens near cottages that probably have thatched roofs. The other alternative is “Deliverance” villain hillbillies in trailer houses with Confederate flags and shotguns and who cares about those losers anyway? There is more truth in the mean hillbilly stereotype, but not by much. Also, there isn’t much benefit to either political party because there just aren’t that many people living out in the boonies, and the places where they live are mostly domninated by Republicans who can take those entire states for granted. (New Mexico is not Republican anymore, but it’s still a small population spread out over enormous distances.)

      • twbb

        Tolkien saw in the British countryside a utopia that the people who actually did the hard things like grow crops to support wealthier Oxford dons teaching Anglo-Saxon literature probably did not see. Even in Hobbiton we get the view of the wealthy non-working types.

        • joe from Lowell

          I thought the Shire was Ireland, not rural England.

          • Rob in CT

            No, it was rural England (possibly with a touch of South Africa, as Tolkein was actually born there and moved when he was ~10 I think).

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scouring_of_the_Shire

            The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in days when motor-cars were rare objects (I had never seen one) and men were still building suburban railways. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important. I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.

            Seems to be post-move, but I’m not 100% sure.

            Edit: ah, the move was when he was 3, so there’s no SA in there. It’s all England.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien

            • Rob in CT

              You know, there are all sorts of criticisms one can lob at Tolkein, but things like this:

              Tolkien later lamented, “The most improper job of any man… is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

              Make me smile. Even as I wonder how he could square that with master/servant relationships, class divisions, and whatnot.

              • Rob in CT

                Also this (from an unsent letter to the Nazis, responding to their question as to whether he was Aryan when his publisher wanted to produce a German version of The Hobbit. Apparently his publisher chose a slightly more “tactful” version to send):

                But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the 18th century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject—which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  + ein

      • LeeEsq

        Tolkien always presented Hobbitton as a prosperous rural community.

        • twbb

          With an astonishingly strong class system. Was Frodo paying Sam each week while on their adventure and being addressed as “master”?

          Seriously, though, the pastoralist fantasy that Tolkien subscribed to usually fell apart in reality. “Prosperity” in a farming town is frequently an ephemeral thing, and while landowners might have decent, albeit hard-working, lives, there are a plenty of the workers who wouldn’t rather be slinging bales of hay until they’re 70.

          • LeeEsq

            Tolkien was in favor of an astonishingly strong class system so it is no surprise that his ideal community has one.

          • wengler

            Sam did later become Mayor of Hobbiton though.

            • John F

              Strong class system, with kings and wizards ans so such. But both times I read the trilogy (In HS and then again about 10 years ago) I came away thinking that Sam was the main/primary/paramount/real hero of the story.

              • Rob in CT

                Oh, he was. I don’t really think that’s in question.

                But he was a hero in part because he knew… who he was (one might also, less charitably say “his place”). This was why he could resist the ring. It couldn’t seduce him by promising him he’d be Sam The Conquering Hero. Sam knew he was just Sam the Gardner.

                But Mayor of Hobbiton he could do. Conquering Hero was Aragorn’s job.

                • dn

                  From another angle, it’s also why the most sympathetically-portrayed of the Lords of Gondor is Faramir. He and Beregond form the idealized feudal pair – one has the obligation to command, the other to obey, each places his obligation to the other above all. Possibly because Faramir understands that he too is ultimately a vassal of the king who will return one day (read: Jesus), he is also able to resist the pull of the Ring.

                • twbb

                  Which is kind of funny because if you believe in self-governance, just about every single other resident of Gondor has more right to rule it than Aragorn.

                • Hogan

                  The people of Lancre wouldn’t dream of living in anything other than a monarchy. They’d done so for thousands of years and knew that it worked. But they’d also found that it didn’t do to pay too much attention to what the King wanted, because there was bound to be another king along in forty years or so and he’d be certain to want something different and so they’d have gone to all that trouble for nothing. In the meantime, his job as they saw it was to mostly stay in the palace, practice the waving, have enough sense to face the right way on coins and let them get on with the ploughing, sowing, growing and harvesting. It was, as they saw it, a social contract. They did what they always did, and he let them.

                • Malaclypse

                  Which is kind of funny because if you believe in self-governance, just about every single other resident of Gondor has more right to rule it than Aragorn.

                  If you have not read this, it is worth the read.

                • LeeEsq

                  Yeah, but complaining about an idealized social hierarchy in Tolkien is like complaining about too much feminism in Virginia Wolf or too much sexuality in D.H. Lawrence. Your getting an accurate depiction of Tolkien’s cosmology just like you are with Wolf and Lawrence.

                • twbb

                  Malaclypse: Yep, I have read it more than once and greatly enjoy it (along with his similar Starship Stormtroopers essay, which is equally enjoyable but not quite as convincing).

                  LeeEsq: I think the point here though is this kind of pastoralist fantasy can perpetuate real-world stereotypes that lead to the kind of attitudes we are criticizing here. Admittedly, Tolkien’s contribution specifically to this worldview is going to be small, but I think it’s worth noting.

      • gmack

        Yeah, I was just about to post the same thing, sans the Tolkien reference (yet one more source of the million comments!). My sense is that rural poverty is not often viewed to be as terrible, because after all it’s so bucolic (“why, I’ve always dreamed of getting a small place and moving off the grid!”).

        • Karen24

          I’m glad I provided such a productive tangent ;)

          But yeah, lots of liberals in and around cities think of rural poverty as a pleasantly aesthetic way of being poor.

  • DrDick

    Excellent post that highlights an important problem in this country. As someone who works with Native Americans and grew up on the fringe of the Ozarks, whose grandfather was an Ozark hillbilly, it is also one near to my heart.

    • Crusty

      Congratulations, you’ve got some real street cred on this.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Yeah, what’s experience got to do with it?

        • DrDick

          We already know from his previous post that actual knowledge of the situation is irrelevant. His comment also completely distorts what I said.

          • Crusty

            How did I distort what you said- because you only say that its near and dear to your heart? Yeah, that’s what you said, but you couldn’t help throw in your bona fides.

            • DrDick

              but you couldn’t help throw in your bona fides.

              As in stating why this is near and dear to me? Your bad faith reading is heartwarming.

              • Crusty

                I learned from you.

      • William Berry

        You two should just knock off the foreplay and get a room already! ;)

    • Karen24

      Glad to meet you. My forebears lived in rural East Texas, which is like the Ozarks but less gorgeous.

      • Denverite

        Whereabouts? My grandparents on my mother’s side came from Gladewater and Port Arthur, respectively.

        • Karen24

          Commerce and Winnsboro, which is, I believe, not far from Gladewater. Nice to meet you!

          • Denverite

            I once locked my keys in my car in Commerce and had to get the university police to jimmy it open for me. Nice guys. They popped that sucker open in about two seconds.

            • joe from Lowell

              I once locked my keys in the car on the GW campus. As the campus police were ineffectively fiddling with a slim jim, a small knot of young black guys came by, and started joking about helping. “I can get into that car in five seconds!”

              The campus police didn’t seem to appreciate the humor in the situation.

              • The Temporary Name

                There’s a sweet Romanian film called The Treasure in which two guys find a locked box. One suggests a thief he knows to open it, the other is unhappy about that idea. Before they figure it out they get hauled in by the cops for digging up potentially valuable historical artifacts. The police then hire the aforementioned thief to open the box.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treasure_%282015_film%29

            • Karen24

              I’m glad you had a pleasant experience!

      • DrDick

        Yeah, East Texas is another of those really grim places, like northern Louisiana, which does not even have Cajuns to give it “quaint charm” to go with the grinding poverty.

        • The Dark Avenger

          Which is all the more astounding that the area produced someone like Sam Rayburn, who is still remembered in the little towns that he represented so long ago. My great-grandfather went to the same elementary school as he did.

          • DrDick

            Carl Albert, the former Speaker of the House, was from Bugtussle, OK, in the SE part of the state, which is another of those rural ghettos.

          • Karen24

            Dissing Rayburn is still a dangerous thing to do around there, even among people who have never voted for a Democrat.

            • The Dark Avenger

              In case my remark wasn’t clear, my ancestor and Rayburn attended the same elementary school at the same time.

  • Brian

    My guess is that it is an “out of sight out of mind” issue. Media Centers are nowhere near these places, so their is no coverage.

    If you never leave your city, the only poverty you see is the urban poverty.

    • BigHank53

      A friend of mine was lost in rural Appalachia, and approached a house to ask for directions. When he was sixty feet away, they poked a rifle out the door, and he decided to seek assistance elsewhere.

      I doubt you’d be any more likely to be a victim of violence at the hands of the rural poor than the urban ones, but the rural poor are more likely to (a) not want to deal with strangers, something one can’t avoid in urban environments, (b) have legal firearms and their own real estate, and (c) know where the local sinkhole or abandoned mine shaft is.

      • DrDick

        A lot of places in rural Oklahoma, when you pull up to a rural home, you stop the car and honk the horn. Then you sit in the car and wait until they invite you to get out. otherwise you can get shot or have the dogs sicced on you.

    • LeeEsq

      The United States is also an urban country so the numbers of urban and suburban poor probably outrank the number of rural poor by several million or at least in the hundreds of thousands.

      More than a few liberals probably also see rural areas as enemy territory if they aren’t charming tourist villages or college towns.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Actually, there are more than a few liberals in rural areas trying to bring 20th Century ideas to a 19th Century political landscape, such as myself. But according to you, we don’t exist.

        • Crusty

          Congratulations, you’re a wonderful man. Where I can I send you your award?

          • The Dark Avenger

            116 N Sierra St, Porterville, CA 93257-4286.

        • brugroffil

          Where did Lee say what you claim he said?

          • joe from Lowell

            I get the sense that there are two particular commenters who get into a fighting mood when this topic comes up.

            Sometimes, when witnesses to a crime are shown a set of photos, they just pick the one that looks the most like the guy, instead of figuring out whether that’s really the guy or not.

    • This is true. It is also true that most people live in cities and suburbs, so we’re talking a fairly small percentage of poor people. (I don’t know how many offhand but it’s obviously not the majority.) And the only evident solutions involve destroying the character of the affected communities (e.g. casinos), mass incarceration (prisons are the main industry in many rural areas), or moving to places where there are jobs. I live in a rural area, fortunately not so remote that I can’t commute to the city, and I can tell you that our constant struggle is finding ways to promote a sustainable rural economy that don’t also make us no longer rural. It’s not at all obvious how to do that. An acceptable amount of tourism (we have a couple of annual festivals and we’ve recently approved a farm winery that will have tastings and host weddings and so on); trying to keep small scale agriculture alive; artisanal businesses — these things we can do, but the local sawmills are closing, the farms are struggling, and many proposals, from pig farms to rock quarries, are obnoxious. Let’s face it, in 2015 we live in an urban economy.

      What does Prof. Loomis propose we do?

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Perhaps an industrial revolution in the countryside like China’s Great Leap Forward?

      • DrDick

        I am not sure that there really is an answer to this. There are things that could help, like high speed broadband access, which could give local businesses access to larger markets. The reality, however, is that population in these areas has generally been in decline for more than 30 years.

        • Karen24

          I have two suggestions: improve broadband access and tax breaks for telecommuters. It won’t increase the rural population, but might make it possible for people to stay instead of moving to ever-larger cities.

          • DrDick

            I would agree with that, though it will not completely solve the problem, it would certainly help.

            • Karen24

              Having more telecommuters would probably increase the number of service jobs available, which won’t help much, but anything that improves the situation has to be considered a good thing.

              • DrDick

                Yep.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            Telecommuters have an implicit tax break, because the cost of living/taxes are so much lower in rural America. Most people would already telecommute if they could, I think.

            The real barrier is work culture. In my own profession, the legal profession should be such that most people could telecommute most of the time (95%+ of the profession is working at a desk, notwithstanding TV portrayals). Yet this is not the case in fact, primarily because of tradition. I imagine many professions are like this. It would be great if we could nudge corporations to be more open to this, but I’m not quite sure how to do it.

            • joe from Lowell

              People used to say that the IT progress would destroy urban commercial districts because everyone would telecommute. No point anymore getting yourself into the middle of a city.

              As it turned out, the internet was great for central business districts because the growth of the ideas economy made face-to-face time and spontaneous interactions involving our messy humanity much more important. Not less.

              Point is, telecommuting is only ever going to get so big.

              • yet_another_lawyer

                That might be true for occupations that require creativity or where ideas are important. I wouldn’t know; I’m in the legal profession.

            • Malaclypse

              In my own profession, the legal profession should be such that most people could telecommute most of the time (95%+ of the profession is working at a desk, notwithstanding TV portrayals). Yet this is not the case in fact, primarily because of tradition.

              The moment this happens, there will be firms based in India but certified by US state bars, charging either piecework or 25 bucks an hour.

              It would be great if we could nudge corporations to be more open to this, but I’m not quite sure how to do it.

              Be careful what you wish for.

            • Ahuitzotl

              well theres also the paranoia quotient – any job you can telecommute to, can be outsourced overseas, so asking to telecommute can be felt to be drawing this to your boss’s notice.

          • Linnaeus

            This isn’t too far from what Michael Lind proposed about ten years ago or so.

        • joe from Lowell

          When I think of the rest of the global west and rural poverty, I think of land reform.

          Maybe we need land reform.

          • Farming in the U.S. is capital intensive and generally requires large scale. Small scale low-capital intensity farming is something a few people with great skills and incredibly hard work can pull off, yielding a modest living. Forty acres and a mule won’t cut it any more, I’m afraid.

            • DrDick

              Yeah. The American food chain is such that small farmers simply cannot afford to stay in business unless they are specialty producers (organic, exotics, free range/range fed livestock, etc.).

              • joe from Lowell

                Yeah.

                Although I’d say that this is more a problem with the American food chain than with anything inherent to land reform.

                The American public needs jobs, not another nickel off Wonder Bread and Solo cups.

                • DrDick

                  Sadly, you cannot feed the world’s population on mom and pop farming. The American people, especially the poor, very much need affordable food.

                • joe from Lowell

                  We are well past the point of food prices being low enough in this country, or of producing enough export to meet the needs abroad. Urban food insecurity doesn’t exist because food prices are too high, but because incomes are too low. Hunger in the developing world doesn’t exist because of inadequate American export, but because of politics.

                  The ag industry and government policy have gone much too far on the cheap labor/Low Low Prices! model, even more so than in manufacturing.

                  We need to backtrack to a more reasonable resting point. The world’s poor are not going to starve if a small-farming sector is carved out in the American agricultural economy, and there would be quite a few fewer of those poor rural Americans if you could get by ok as a small farmer again.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  The world doesn’t need California to grow almonds for export, for example.

                • joe from Lowell

                  The world doesn’t need us to produce 110% of last year’s grain harvest for export.

                  We could produce, say, 99% of last year’s amount. Or 102%. Or some number to be determined by the Department of Agriculture, which is less than what we’d be on track for under current practices, and use that slack to make small farming a sustainable operation for that many people.

                  We consumers could also buy from small local farmers instead of big national or global ag businesses, at least as much as is feasible. Move the needle a little and it would do a lot.

      • Mike Lommler

        Guaranteed Basic Income would be a nice start. Putting additional resources into rural schools, too.

        • Basic income programs would be particularly effective in addressing rural poverty, because it is more difficult and expensive to administer traditional welfare and/or jobs programs in rural areas. Jobs programs in the past (like in the New Deal) were able to reach the rural poor because it was more common at the time for a sole breadwinner to travel seasonally to make money. Today, single income households are rarer (for many reasons), and there is a stronger cultural emphasis on fathers being involved in the day-to-day lives of their children.

          And the basic income dollar would go further in rural areas, too.

      • Brian

        While I agree that this population is significantly smaller than the urban poor, I also think that this population has more representation in congress and electoral votes.

        By pandering to the racist tendencies of poor white voters (feeding the false notion that the entitlement of brown skinned people through government thus keeping hardworking whites down), the right wing can continue to control congress.

        In fact, the rhetoric used by the left a lot of the time makes use of poor rural white stereotypes to lambast certain right-wing talkin points. How many times have you read someone criticizing the NRA by affecting dumb white terms like “Murca” or “Gubment” etc?

        I guess my point isn’t that the left wing isn’t aware of rural poverty, there are a lot of people (primarily left wing) who provide civil services to these groups. However, the lack of media attention at the larger scale is part of the reason why the ‘rural’ states continually vote republican.

  • Murc

    Sometimes, I feel like I am one of the only bloggers consistently talking about these issues, whether on the reservations or Appalachia.

    John Cole gets his Appalachian poverty hat on a fair bit.

    This is ground we cannot cede to the right. There are bloggers out there who blog about rural poverty a lot… and like milbloggers, there’s a big conservative skew and focus on whiteness, and such poverty is often discussed in appalling racist terms.

    • Phil Perspective

      I wish Loomis would stop calling Iggy, Matthews and the rest of the Vox-ites as people of the left. They aren’t. They are propagandists for the wealthy. People of the left do talk about it, though not enough. Democrats and propagandists of the wealthy ignore it though.

      • Rob in CT

        This works if you don’t think of “the left” as the leftward 1/2 or so of the political landscape in the US.

        Otherwise, it doesn’t really work. The “Voxites” are left of median in the USofA that actually exists. They’re certainly not the vanguard of the revolution, but few are. Very, very few (and some of them probably would think you’re not pure enough).

      • Murc

        In the context of both American and worldwide politics Matt Yglesias is absolutely and unequivocally a man of the left.

        He might not be sufficiently left. Indeed, I would argue that he is not. But that’s entirely different from being right-wing.

  • njorl

    I think there is also an element of political convenience at play. The urban poor are easier to involve politically. While both groups might feel powerless, in an urban setting, a skilled leader with a good organization can show people the difference they can make. They can see their own crowds at the polls. They can elect their own councilmen, or representatives. It’s a lot harder to make that happen in rural areas, so fewer people try.

  • wca

    Looked at the comments on that article. Sheesh. Right off the bat, there are complaints about the rural poor getting more federal tax money than they pay into the system.

    I thought that was kinda the point of progressive taxation and redistribution, but what do I know?

  • Rural electrification was great as far as it went, but reading these comments, I think there is a great need for rural education, rural health care, rural sewerage and rural internet connectivity as well. As well as rural employment…ification.

    • Brett

      All of the above. Rural broadband seems straightforward – you could run it along the same poles you’re using for rural electricity, and possibly even have the same company provide it.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Arivaca did it back in 2005-2006 when I was living there using wifi relays all the way from Tubac.

      • Michael Cain

        Depending on the population distribution patterns, it gets very expensive very quickly — much more so than electricity and telephone service. It cost the State of Colorado a large chunk just to get fiber extended to all of the county seats. Half or so of those simply lacked the revenue potential to make it worth any private concern spending the money to plow 50-60 miles of fiber to those small towns. Even after that, broadband access is often confined to the town, or even to a relative handful of locations in town.

  • Brett

    And I think the fact that people like Annie Lowrey, Dylan Matthews, Matt Yglesias, etc., really seem to know nothing at all about rural America is quite telling.

    I think it’s the idea that by sticking around in rural areas, they somehow “deserve” their poverty – they didn’t move to the cities like everyone else did, and we shouldn’t be making it easier for them to stay in rural areas when there’s no “need” for them to do so anymore.

    • wca

      It’s a more limited version of the conservative idea that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor.

      Of course, it also ignores that moving is itself difficult and usually requires resources that the poor basically by definition don’t have.

      • brugroffil

        Vote with your feet! is a hilariously dumb libertarian mantra, and I’m not sure something like the Great Migration could ever really be replicated.

        • Linnaeus

          It’s not just a libertarian mantra, although “mantra” might be too strong a word.

        • Brian Schmidt

          Why not? Especially if a governmental service was to help people move?

          I just don’t see rural Appalachia ever approaching the employment levels that they had when maximizing resource extraction. One of the solutions – just one – would be to help people move.

          Here in California, enormous amounts of state bond money are going to be spent trying to maintain tiny and unsustainable water systems. It would be a lot better to reduce demand on those water systems and help people move.

          I’d draw a distinction between most rural poverty and reservation poverty – reservations are separate sovereigns, the issue there would be supporting/not harming those economies.

          • DrDick

            The problem is that, in addition to not having the resources to relocate, there are not enough jobs in the cities to accommodate all the rural poor in addition to the existing urban poor. Also, what reservation economies? Most reservations effectively do not have one and are dependent on the the surrounding almost as impoverished white economy.

            • Brian Schmidt

              As for what reservation economies, it depends on the rez, I guess. The subsidiary point is that federal and state policies should be different at reservations to allow people to stay as much as possible, when they want to stay. My broader point is that helping people move to areas that are less poor should be part of the toolkit (accepting that doesn’t automatically solve the problems of the people who move, but when they move to an area that has one-third the unemployment rate of where they left, it might give them a chance).

              • DrDick

                While there are few relatively prosperous tribes, including several in California, Pine Ridge is more typical than Cabazon. The federal government tried relocating Indians to the cities for two decades, staring in the early 50s. The results were disappointing, if predictable. Many families have returned to the reservations, where they at least have better access to government services and healthcare. I see no reason to believe relocating rural white people will work any better.

            • joe from Lowell

              Also, what reservation economies? Most reservations effectively do not have one and are dependent on the the surrounding almost as impoverished white economy.

              This. People in most of the country recognize poverty as a bad spot within a larger, functional economy. It’s like there is a wall between impoverished inner-city neighborhoods and the functional economy they are being unfairly shut out of.

              These population-crashing towns’ absence of an economy to access is something foreign to a lot of people.

          • Linnaeus

            Moving can be an option for some people, but I’m a little skeptical of the efficacy of moving assistance as a government program. As DrDick points out, you’d need to have jobs for the people who are moving, and those jobs would need to pay enough for the people to live in their new location. They might not find those jobs quickly or the ones they do find might not pay enough, so there would have to be some kind of support for them. Such a program would need to be more comprehensive than paying people to move.

            Now, maybe that’s doable, but I could also see some political pushback from both ends of the policy: places receiving people may think that they can’t handle the influx and those places that would lose people might not want to help pay for a program that aims to depopulate them.

            • Malaclypse

              And not only that, but you are asking poor people to give up the social network that is their primary safety net. “If I lose my double-wide I can crash on cousin Earl’s couch until I land on my feet” is a better situation than “If I can’t make rent this month I’m homeless.”

              • Brett

                I don’t think it’s that bad. Folks usually don’t just migrate to wherever unless they’re refugees – they often follow in the pathways of family members and friends who have already gone. “Move to X, there’s work here” type of thing.

                Someone in the family obviously has to go first, but then they’re there at the destination end for the next people.

                • DrDick

                  The experience of the Federal Indian Relocation Program of the 50s and 60s strongly suggests it is at least that bad and they also had other family members follow the original relocatees.

                • Brett

                  Sorry, “that bad” is poorly phrased. It should have been “as bad as that”.

                  EDIT: Woh, ninja response from DrDick!

                • joe from Lowell

                  To the Management:

                  What are the chances of a guest post by DrDick on the Indian Relocation Program of the 50s and 60s?

                • DrDick

                  What are the chances of a guest post by DrDick on the Indian Relocation Program of the 50s and 60s?

                  Slim to none at present. Give me a few days and I could probably come up with some sources.

              • Steve LaBonne

                This. It’s very hard for us middle class people (unless we have encountered some truly hard times ourselves) to understand that poor people don’t have things like credit cards, and their family and social networks are sometimes quite literally the ONLY things standing between them and homelessness and starvation. To expect people to abandon that to chase low-paying, highly insecure jobs hundreds of miles away is not just insane, it’s evil.

                • DrDick

                  Exactly!

                • joe from Lowell

                  Yeah. Mal’s comment about social networks wasn’t primarily about someone having to watch the game alone.

                  Imagine if you’re one pay check ahead of homelessness, and you’ll lose your job if you can’t get a ride to work today.

                • BigHank53

                  There was an article a couple years back in the local paper about a woman who hadn’t set foot off of her property in over forty years when she passes away. We can raise all the questions we like about her sanity but her kids sure as hell weren’t putting everything they owned into a U-Haul and heading for green economic pastures, were they?

          • Brett

            It depends on where they’re moving. If you target employment programs in some of the bigger towns and cities of a state, then you’ll probably get state support (or at least neutrality), and it might work.

            But if you’re talking about something like paying people to move from Appalachia to northern California because the unemployment is much lower . . . it’s just not going to work, and it’s not like you’re going to really be able to force people to leave either. Most of the folks who wanted to work at higher pay more than they wanted to live in the rural areas have already left.

            I agree the reservations are a different matter. On the plus side, you could generate some decent employment on public works projects designed just to get them up to the rest of 21st century America on infrastructure if they’re as bad as Erik says they are.

            • DrDick

              Actually, you could create quite a few jobs with targeted infrastructure maintenance/upgrades in most of these areas, and that is just basics like roads, bridges, etc.

    • NonyNony

      I think it’s the idea that by sticking around in rural areas, they somehow “deserve” their poverty

      I think this is exactly what’s going on. Victim blaming. “If they’re poor and in a rural area with no jobs, why don’t they move somewhere where there are jobs?”

      Newsflash to anyone who is thinking this way – the ones that could do that have. Poor people aren’t stupid, they just don’t have money.

      • wca

        “[W]hy don’t they move somewhere where there are jobs?”

        Isn’t another component of the problem that the urban areas aren’t exactly awash in jobs either?

        If I’m reading the Census numbers right, what good would having 62% of the nation’s poor move to the top 25 metro areas in the US to join the other 38% of the nation’s poor do?

        • njorl

          It’s also not as safe a bet as it used to be to “move to the jobs”. Leaving the farm to go to the coal mine, steel mill or automotive factory was a long term decision. It was what you were going to do for the rest of your life. No one thinks they’re going to Bismark ND to work on an oil well for the rest of their life. Anywhere you go could be Flint Michigan in 5 years and everyone knows it.

          • Brett

            It wasn’t any different for Gilded Age migrants (or more modern unauthorized Mexican immigrants) either – most of the poor ones coming to the US were not going to stable jobs. They were coming for work, whatever work they could get.

    • carolannie

      Many of the rural poor aren’t just living in shanty shacks picking a banjo. They are doing subsistence farming or cattle raising. Many live in very old houses that appear from the outside to be OK but lack proper heating or plumbing. You can look around the rural areas in Colorado and see them all the time. They are land poor. They are struggling to hang on to the land they love.

      • DrDick

        Most of those are also working some low wage job in town as well.

    • wengler

      I’m more concerned that these are the writers used to represent ‘the Left’.

    • Ransom Stoddard

      I think it’s the idea that by sticking around in rural areas, they somehow “deserve” their poverty – they didn’t move to the cities like everyone else did, and we shouldn’t be making it easier for them to stay in rural areas when there’s no “need” for them to do so anymore.

      Yggy actually wrote a book about how high rents in large cities limit economic opportunity, so I think he at least should be cleared of this charge.

      • Brett

        And I give him credit for that, although Ryan Avent actually wrote a better book about it with The Gated City. Avent even pointed out that property rules in Silicon Valley were so difficult that the working population there actually declined during the tech boom of the late 1990s IIRC.

  • LeeEsq

    I don’t think that it is exactly true that the United States has a no narrative of white poverty. We used to have a rather big narrative of white poverty but some of the threads got lost in recent years. At the Democratic Party convention in 1984, Mario Cuomo spoke about poverty in Appalachia among other things in his challenge to President Reagan’s Morning in America message. The idea of Appalachia and other rural areas being poverty ridden and somewhat to very primitive in living standards compared to the rest of the United States used to be very common.

    If I had to hazard a guess on why this narrative was lost, I’d argue that poor rural whites are kind of seen as deserving it for making some wrong political choices and not keeping up with modern progressive social beliefs. White liberal bloggers see them as a bit of an enemy or at least not a natural constituency for progressive politics and ignore them.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      A similar dynamic of the loss of political support for eliminating white poverty also exists in South Africa. It was eliminated for a time at the expense of the black majority under apartheid. But, has now returned with a vengence. Yates who is originally from Ghana did an excellent BBC special on it.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03w4bsv

    • The Dark Avenger

      You’re beginning to get repetitive with evidence you just pulled out of your ass.

      • Crusty

        You’re not very bright, are you?

        • The Dark Avenger

          But for one letter, Matt Groeing would have a good case for copyright infringement.

    • efc

      I think your second paragraph is important. There may be a sense that why should we care about white, rural poverty when those individuals continually vote for candidates who are explicitly against measures to ameliorate poverty for non-white people urban and rural.

      • LeeEsq

        Its a sort of progressive tribalism. Rural poor are generally seen as part of the Red Tribe and at least somewhat deserving of what they get because of that. They are also seen as being at best apathetic towards many people in the Blue Tribe like LGBT people or people of color.

        • The Dark Avenger

          As someone who lives in Red CA, you can change apathetic to hositile in your last sentence to be closer to the truth on the ground here.

          • Just_Dropping_By

            He did say “at best apathetic,” which I interpret as an effort to be generous in the characterization.

  • Bruce Vail

    I lived in rural Virginia during my college years. It seemed that rural poverty was simply taken for granted and that it was a permanent feature of life in that area.

    The huge gulf in the incomes of most students and the nearby low-income residents was a real irritant in Town-Gown relations.

    • BigHank53

      Hasn’t changed. I met the wife of a graduate student who volunteered at her kids’ elementary school. She encountered nine-year-olds that didn’t own a toothbrush.

      • joe from Lowell

        I worked in Fitchburg with a planner/admin who had worked in rural northern Vermont. She told a story about scoring this grant to help get plumbing into people’s houses – there were people using a hole they dug in the basement. She found the grant program, got the application done, got the back up information she needed, was awarded the grant, and just needed a vote from the town select board to disperse the funds.

        At which point she ran into a wall of “I was poor and nobody ever helped me none.” She already had the g-d money!

        It occurs to me that this anecdote might be relevant to the OP.

        • Rob in CT

          At which point she ran into a wall of “I was poor and nobody ever helped me none.” She already had the g-d money!

          Fucking hell.

          In Vermont, fer chrissakes.

          To paraphrase Ghostbusters:

          If somebody asks you “would you like this grant money” you say YES!

          • joe from Lowell

            Vermont went Reagan in 1988, which would have been about the time she was there. Maybe even earlier. It’s only been a socialist utopia for a couple of decades.

            • LeeEsq

              If Vermont voted for Reagan in a year where he was Constitutionally barred from running again for the Presidency than they might have some deep problems.

              • joe from Lowell

                Bush, Lol!

                That comment actually began life as a statement about 1984, but 1984 doesn’t really tell us all that much.

                • Hogan

                  George Orwell has a sad.

          • joe from Lowell

            If somebody asks you “would you like this grant money” you say YES!

            Boss? I was looking through the Federal Register for grant program announcements, and I just realized we need some _____________________.

          • sonamib

            If somebody asks you “would you like this grant money” you say YES!

            Well, to be fair, you do have to worry about long-term liability. If there’s no way you can pay the maintenance bill, that shiny free capital improvement might not be worth it.

            Of course, indoor plumbing is a basic necessity and everyone deserves to have it. It’s still better to build it even if you don’t have the money for the maintenance yet. But you will have to fight at some point for the maintenance money.

            The problem is that it’s often harder to secure funding to mantain something than to build something new. It’s pretty obvious when you look at roads. Lots of photogenic ribbon-cutting ceremonies while old roads and bridges just hang around in disrepair.

            • joe from Lowell

              No one ever won office promising to separate combined sewers.

            • Rob in CT

              Fair point.

  • Bruce Vail

    Could the perception that poor whites, particularly in the South, have abandoned the Democratic Party in favor of the Republicans have anything to do with the Left’s lack of interest?

    • Karen24

      I think this is important. Lots of lefties assume all rural poor people are, well, trailer trash, complete with Confederate flags and assault rifles. As Erik notes, lots of not-white people are included in rural poor.

    • Humpty-Dumpty

      Or vice versa?

    • wca

      Could the perception that poor whites, particularly in the South, have abandoned the Democratic Party in favor of the Republicans

      I’m sure that perception drives some of the nastier commenting about poor whites you hear from otherwise liberal-leaning folks, but I’m not so sure the perception is accurate.

      They are, however, much more likely to be nonvoters – like other poor people.

      • Rob in CT

        The perception isn’t all that accurate. But it’s Out There. Until somebody showed me the numbers, I thought it was true too.

    • Chet Manly

      I think it may be part of it, but I think it’s mainly a good deal of ignorance among east-coast types about rural life. I seem to remember Ezra Klein and several others a few years back kept arguing for huge Euro-level gas tax increases. Even when the objection was pointed out every time in comments they just couldn’t couldn’t seem to grasp the idea that, unlike Europe, many rural poor folks west of the Mississippi have 45+ mile drives for work and basic services.

      • Davis X. Machina

        East of the Mississippi, too. My wife’s got a 67-mile-each-way commute. (Maine…) a 40 mpg car and $2.23 gas take some of the sting out of it, but it wasn’t always thus — old car and $3.92 gas not too long ago.

        • Rob in CT

          Yikes. I feel for your wife. Even assuming non-terrible traffic, that’s gotta be what, 1:15 each way, minimum?

          • BigHank53

            Probably more. The upside of Maine is that there isn’t much traffic; the downside is that roads are sized to suit. A good state highway might have a 55mph limit, it’s more likely that there’s some good sized chunks of 35 and 45mph.

            Maine only has three hundred-something miles of interstate.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Yes, this is why Yglesias, by comparison, argues that the gas tax should be increased just by a penny per month (albeit for an indefinite period).

    • brewmn

      I think this is far closer to the truth than the condescending nonsense proffered by Ms. Gurley in the OP.

  • As a result, there is an implicit belief that whites—who have benefited from all of the advantages that come with being white—don’t have a good reason to be poor.

    This is unprovable, but rather more likely is that (1) the good reasons they have are the same systemic reasons you find in “non-white” areas and (2) the perception that the people there are relatively happy with (or at least have adapted to) their lot.

    The lightbulb has to want to change, as it were.

    (This is, admittedly, a possible corrolary of the Lowrey/Matthews/Yglesias “Mississippi has it so much better than Palestinian Jerusalem” declaration; the people are aware of possible other lives, but choose not to pursue them. The two primary difference are that (a) it does not pretend that the people would not be better off if they had better access to the surrounding society’s benefits and (b) it doesn’t require privileging capital over labour.)

  • While the majority of rural Americans struggling with poverty are white, Pruitt says, the racial makeup of the rural poor is far more diverse than the image most Americans realize.

    This is something I’ve wondered about. Based solely on observation and conversation, the amount of ignorance what I’ll call privileged liberals display about rural areas of America is staggering. Jokes about banjos are the least of it. There’s the expressions of shock that “Anyone could live that way! [swoon]” There’s this thick, smelly layer of stereotype and assumption that is unpleasantly familiar.

    And I have to wonder, don’t you people ever drive anywhere outside of the suburbs? Why are living conditions between cities such a mystery?

    However, I have a couple alternate explanations for this, because I’m not sure rural whites are even on the average academics/sociologists’ radar:

    As a result, there is an implicit belief that whites—who have benefited from all of the advantages that come with being white—don’t have a good reason to be poor. In other words, that when whites live in poverty, it is their fault, or even their choice.

    It could well be that some of this stems from the fact that it is more comfortable to discuss the problems of people who are less like the academic. It is possible to tell oneself a number of comforting stories when studying poor people of a different race, chief of which is “This could never happen to me.”

    I also wonder if there’s a belief that the natural order of things is the white person studies dark exotic people. Studying other white people violates that order.

    • Rob in CT

      Based solely on observation and conversation, the amount of ignorance what I’ll call privileged liberals display about rural areas of America is staggering.

      True, and I’ve resembled that remark.

      And I have to wonder, don’t you people ever drive anywhere outside of the suburbs? Why are living conditions between cities such a mystery?

      Well, driving past on the interstate isn’t really all that educational, is it? Or even driving by on a back road. Getting out and talking to people might be.

      Bruce Vail, above:

      Could the perception that poor whites, particularly in the South, have abandoned the Democratic Party in favor of the Republicans have anything to do with the Left’s lack of interest?

      Surely this (a form of tribalism) is part of it. And the reverse, of course.

      So if you’re an urban/suburban liberal, #1 you maybe ignorant of various things, #2 you’re sick and tired of the idea that you’re not a “real American” and you put #1 and #2 together and you get some form of “fuck ’em.”

      Not that it’s a good response.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        some form of “fuck ’em.”

        I incline in that direction.

        But I learned from Andew Gelman’s Red State, Blue State* that poor** white people in red states still vote strongly Democratic. (Also, rich people in blue states still mostly vote GOP.) What makes a red state a red state is mostly (1) how far up the middle class ladder people get before switching their votes from D to R and (2) the level of economic class (R) solidarity among the rich.

        So I don’t look out the window in poor towns and see Rs anymore. Baby steps for me.

        * As Gelman has realized, he probably lost some sales with that title. He was considering The Secret Life of the American Voter, which is kinda meaningless but also grabbier.

        ** YMMV when defining poor

        • Rob in CT

          Right, I’ve fallen into that reaction myself, and have to conciously fight it.

          The Red State/Blue State info (I haven’t read the book, but the basic point has been made elsewhere) helped.

      • Linnaeus

        So if you’re an urban/suburban liberal, #1 you maybe ignorant of various things, #2 you’re sick and tired of the idea that you’re not a “real American” and you put #1 and #2 together and you get some form of “fuck ’em.”

        I get tired of the idea that I’m not a “real” American, too, but I also remember that the people most responsible for promulgating that false dichotomy are not the rural poor, or even most rural people.

        With regard to your formulation, there was an unfortunate display of it on a certain other blog that many here frequent; there was a post about Sam Brownback’s disastrous rule in Kansas and a healthy number of commenters voiced a “fuck ’em, that’s who they voted for” sentiment, which I found to be gravely disappointing. I couldn’t overlook that we were talking about Kansas, either. Blue states elect Republicans, too, but no one seems to say that New Jersey deserves what it gets because of Christie.

        • Rob in CT

          Well, with regard to NJ, I’ll say it. Fuckin’ Jersey!

          [CT thing, no idea why]

          ;)

        • BiloSagdiyev

          One particular election, sure. But my “fuck ’em” gland starts to throb when they do it election after election, decade after decade. We’re now 35 years into Reaganism, and I’m tired.

          • Linnaeus

            That’s an understandable reaction, and to be completely honest, I’ve felt the same way from time to time.

      • Well, driving past on the interstate isn’t really all that educational, is it? Or even driving by on a back road. Getting out and talking to people might be.

        Driving back roads allows you to at least see that what may seem like bizarre living conditions (eew they live in THAT?) are actually quite common. A person might be able to blow off one family living in a half bus/half trailer hybrid as stupid hillbillies. But multiply that hundreds of times across several states, it may become the dawning realization that poverty in America takes many shapes and is a lot more rampant than one suspected.

        But yes, talking is even more important. And I’ve done it, so anyone can!

        So if you’re an urban/suburban liberal, #1 you maybe ignorant of various things,

        See above.

        #2 you’re sick and tired of the idea that you’re not a “real American”

        I assume “the idea” = people saying that, but in my experience that comes from the not rural, not poor, white pols who claim to represent rural America, which isn’t the same as rural poor America (which certainly isn’t all white/all Republican) and absolutely not the sort of people Sen. Robublind gives a fuck about.

        and you put #1 and #2 together and you get some form of “fuck ’em.”

        “I don’t know much about these people, but I think they’ve said something mean about people like me, so I don’t care about them,” is one conclusion people reach.

        But leaving aside how this is starting to sound like something we accuse the other side of doing, I assumed Loomis is talking about sociologists. If they aren’t able to take interest in people unless those people are nice to them, I’m not sure how they’re getting any work done.

        • joe from Lowell

          in my experience that comes from the not rural, not poor, white pols who claim to represent rural America, which isn’t the same as rural poor America

          This.

          That “real America” pose is about as authentic as a wagon wheel and split-rail fence in front of a 1961 cul-de-sac split level.

          • tsam

            Agreed–I get that from the middle class suburbanite zombies more than the very poor.

        • Rob in CT

          That’s why I said it was not a good response.

    • joe from Lowell

      Jokes about banjos are the least of it. There’s the expressions of shock that “Anyone could live that way! [swoon]” There’s this thick, smelly layer of stereotype and assumption that is unpleasantly familiar.

      I was reading a piece in the Nation a few years ago about some nasty Republican scandal, and they threw in the line “Even people in trailer parks don’t behave this way!”

      I wrote in, pointing out that mobile homes often represented the first step in upward mobility for a lot of people, and asking if they’d have written “Even people in public housing down’t behave this way!”

      To their credit, they ran it.

      And I have to wonder, don’t you people ever drive anywhere outside of the suburbs? Why are living conditions between cities such a mystery?

      The area between Portland, ME and Washington, DC is a megalopolis. There is no rural land between the cities; it’s all suburbs. The answer to your question is, for a lot of people, no. They drive a lot, and it never takes them into an actual rural area.

      • Eastern CT/western RI is kind of rural I guess.

        • joe from Lowell

          Yeah, that’s a pretty area. Old New England. And there are rural sections in western Mass, and lots of Maine, NH, and VT.

          But they aren’t between the cities. You don’t drive through NE Connecticut, or northern Franklin County, MA, to get from anywhere to anywhere.

          • No, but you do have to drive through southwest RI on 95 between Providence and New Haven. It certainly is the last non-urban area until Richmond.

            • twbb

              Additionally, the truly poor rural places are generally not adjacent to federal highways.

              • joe from Lowell

                Well, they might be adjacent to the highway itself – with one exit ramp 20 miles east, and another 15 miles west.

                Fat lot of good that does you.

                And if you’re just cruising on the interstate, you are about as present in the town it goes through as if you were flying over it in a passenger jet.

                • twbb

                  Well, I guess, though when I think real rural poor I usually assume a couple of hours off the highway, with the last hour or so on dirt roads.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Something I’ve come to appreciate is that New England states aren’t just smaller than other states, but also built on a smaller scale.

                  Longer driving distances in other parts of the country mean the same thing in terms of social/political/economic geography in, say, Montana as much shorter distances do here.

                  Someone at Reason once asked me why Massachusetts doesn’t just build lots of houses west of Worcester for people to commute into Boston and the 128 suburbs. After all, this Texan pointed out, areas that are closer than that to Houston are bedroom communities for the city.

                  But if you’ve been here, you realize it would be impossible.

              • DrDick

                Actually most of the interstate system is adjacent to very rural areas, many of them severely impoverished, but you would have to actually get off the interstate and go further than the gas station/convenience store right at the exit to know that.

          • Rob in CT

            Yes you do. I-84 goes through a pretty rural section of NE CT.

            395 moreso.

            Not that it matters: whizzing by at 75mph doesn’t teach you much (or anything).

            • Rob in CT

              To be clear: to get from Boston to NYC, 90->84->91->95 or 90->84->15->Cross County (forget the route #)->9 (Henry Hudson Pkwy) are viable routes.

              Ok, I’ll shut up now, because Joe’s comment was right in general.

              • joe from Lowell

                You could take Route 2, which basically parallels I-90, and actually drive through towns with rural poverty.

                But nobody would do that to go from Boston to Albany or Buffalo or anywhere. If that was a route people drove for intercity travel, they’d upgrade it to an interstate highway and you wouldn’t be driving in the towns anymore.

                • The Temporary Name

                  I met a rich guy who lived in a big house in a resort community. When he drove to his place he’d pass a house full of stereotypical country poor folks with disabled vehicles strewn all over the front yard, which to him was an eyesore. He wound up paying to relocate them off the highway. It worked out for that bunch and I’m glad Richie Rich was willing to part with a good amount of money that benefited someone else, but the point of it was to cover them up.

                • Rob in CT

                  TTN:

                  That’s… amazing. It’s like awful and awesome at the same time.

                • The Temporary Name

                  He’s one of those people who’s really bitter about all those new Obamataxes. It’s a rough life.

          • Lee Rudolph

            You don’t drive through NE Connecticut, or northern Franklin County, MA, to get from anywhere to anywhere.

            I sometimes drove along US Route 6 to get from Providence to (the vicinity of) Hartford through NE CT. (But I wasn’t in a terrible hurry.) There are stretches of that—e.g., around Brooklyn, CT—that are plenty rural (and not without visible rural poverty).

            • Rob in CT

              I actually love that drive. When friends of mine lived near Providence I did it fairly often (I live not far from 6, so it’s arguably the fastest route as well as most direct).

      • Srsly Dad Y

        Does the megalopolis really stretch all the way to Richmond now? For various reasons I always turn west after Fredericksburg toward Charlottesville.

        • joe from Lowell

          I was going to say “Richmond” at first, but there is still a belt between DC and Richmond, isn’t there?

        • No. But they’re working on it!

        • 95 between Richmond and DC is almost all suburbs, suburbs, exurbs, exurbs, suburbs, suburbs.

          The megalopolis has definitely made it all the way down there.

      • Denverite

        OT, but I’ve made the drive from Riverton, WY to Denver several times over the past year. You can take an interstate to either Casper or Rawlins, but then it’s about 90 miles on a country road at that point. Going the Casper way, you pass some sort of lodge with a restaurant and rooms about halfway in between Casper and Riverton, but other than that it’s absolute desolation until you hit Shoshani just before Riverton. You pass maybe a half dozen human structures. Going the Rawlins way, there’s one settlement with a gas station and a fire station, then other than that, there are two “towns” with a eight or so houses grouped together. I’m pretty sure it’s where the ranch hands live for big commercial ranching operations. That second way, I’ve gone twenty miles without seeing another car.

        • joe from Lowell

          Massachusetts does not have a single square inch of unincorporated county land. Everywhere is in one town or another.

          It can be difficult for people here to even understand the concept.

          • Davis X. Machina
          • Lee Rudolph

            Everywhere is in one town

            or city

            or another.

            The Massachusetts Constitution actually permits a third choice, “plantation unincorporated”, but it’s been a long while since any such existed. I like to speculate that it’s at least conceivable that new plantations unincorporated could be created by alluvial accretion (or, similarly but not identically, if the sea level dropped again in a future ice age and Martha’s Vineyard was once again connected to the mainland).

            • joe from Lowell

              You just can’t win with the town/city/municipality/town-or-city thing, Lee.

              You either sound like a pedantic fop, or you write something that needs an obvious correction.

              • Lee Rudolph

                I cop to being a pedantic fop. But what’s the correction? That’s the way I remember the text of the state constitution; am I wrong?

                • joe from Lowell

                  The correction is “but cities, too!” when you write towns, and “or towns!” when you write “cities.”

          • The Dark Avenger

            The city and county of San Francisco cover the same geographic territory, so they have both a police chief and a sheriff at the same time, for example.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      This is something I’ve wondered about. Based solely on observation and conversation, the amount of ignorance what I’ll call privileged liberals display about rural areas of America is staggering.

      Some of us white liberals are also from small towns and rural America, and it can still leave a lot of bitterness and hatred (especially if you’re LGBT).

      • That’s not ignorance, though.

        • Rob in CT

          Familiarity, breeding contempt. Or something like that.

      • tsam

        I’ve spent most of my life around “rural” people. The prejudices I have about them are well earned.

        One of our rural “real ‘murricans” near Spokane here planted a bomb at a Martin Luther King Day parade a couple of years ago. He’s a slightly more extreme example of a disturbing norm in rural eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

        • The Dark Avenger

          “The common clay of the New West. You know, morons.”

      • DrDick

        True and I have considerable ambivalence about my native state as a consequence and I am not LGBT.

  • Johnnie

    My dad grew up fairly poor on a Wisconsin dairy farm. It’s pretty interesting how the extended family is pretty well split between diehard farm and labor Democrats and social issues reactionaries. There clearly was a point (while my grandparents were growing up) where New Deal policies clearly targeted rural folks but that was definitely tied into the racial politics of the time. There are definitely still rural Democrats in office in this state (pretty much entirely from the western part) and I think that’s a hold over based on the same factors that kept the UP sending a Dem to the House for decades. The demographic make-up of the less populated areas around here has definitely shifted in the last 40 years or so, a lot more Hispanic and Hmong agricultural workers and fewer white people, though they are still the overwhelming majority. While it seems unlikely that shifting these populations leftward on economic issues is going to have a large national impact, I think the only legitimate strategy the state Democrats might have to combat recent redistricting is to make common cause with the poorer elements in these rural areas. How effectively they can do that is an open question though.

  • Booger

    I’m sure someone else has already brought this up, but there’s this weird romanticism of rural life where the view is how can you be poor? You can have a garden and hunt and fish for meat and heat with wood you chop yourself et cetera. But hardly anyone has time for that because crucial things require cash, so you spend half your life getting to and from a job that pays squat. It’s a concatenation of Jefferson and Thoreau and Tolkien with no connection to reality in 2015.

    • BigHank53

      If you’re harvesting your own wood you need a pickup truck and a good chainsaw and a hydraulic woodsplitter and a woodshed to stack the wood in for six months while it seasons. Or a trust fund to pay the bills while you spend five weeks doing it all by hand.

  • twbb

    You see the same sort of rhetoric when it comes to immigration, particularly regarding those that enter the country illegally; the people being pushed out of jobs aren’t the “deserving poor” like the new arrivals are, and since they were too lazy/stupid to capitalize on all the advantages they were given they just don’t deserve anything other than poverty.

    The rhetoric becomes harder to pull off when faced with the idea that poor black Americans are pushed out the most, but that is generally met (even by the leftiest leftist at the OWS rally) with the right-wing talking point of “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that the economic benefits of an influx of cheap labor will eventually trickle down to the unemployed citizen poor.

  • NewishLawyer

    Another avenue. Liberals generally think urbanism is important for environmental reasons. Notice the push in recent years about the importance of urban, dense neighborhoods.

    Maybe and somewhat unconsciously liberals don’t pay that much attention to rural poverty because we want people to live closer together and think structures that support rural economies like sprawl and coal mining and prisons are part of broader problems to be solved. So there is a trade off. How do you help the rural poor while also attempting to end the use of coal?

    A lot of people do point out that things would be even worse for rural communities with less government intervention. Internet and cell reception only exists in the large parts of the country because the government subsidizes it.

    I also think there could be some raw political calculations in terms of getting votes.

    • Ronan

      There are often, in numerous contexts, clear regional biases in activism/journalism etc. Most is explainable, I think, by the fact that the majority of these demographics don’t come from rural poverty. Most live in cities (either born there or migrated for professional/social/quality of life issues) . Most of the institutions that support them are urban based. The poverty they see is primarily urban. Their in group care about urban poverty and the demographics it (apparently) represents. Rural poverty the western world over is nearly passé.

      • Ronan

        ..and as some mentioned above the ideological reasons. The rural poor are often seen as uncultured, reactionary and socially conservative. The urban poor , among the left, are seen as the urban wealthy sees itself , progressive , politically aware, easier to organise. There’s probably some truth to these caricatures , as far as it goes. But at times seriously overstated

  • oneslyfox

    When I was a graduate student, in sociology, my thesis chair researched black farmers and one of the specialties of the department was rural sociology. So, while it isn’t a popular topic it also isn’t being ignored.

  • PSP

    This is sorta out of date, since it was written before the current opiate boom, but I’m just going to plop it down for those Eastern Mass commenters thinking rural poverty is far away. Northern and Western New England is filled with places like this.

    [From the Boston Globe, Mar. 11, 1997]

    Hidden Massachusetts

    HEATH.–Bob Tanner’s day begins shortly after 2 a.m. with a
    22-mile drive down unforgiving mountain roads to his job
    sweeping floors and cleaning restrooms at McDonald’s.
    The trip is hard enough, but some mornings Tanner climbs
    into his car and finds his fuel tank empty. The gas thieves,
    armed with siphons, have hit three times this winter.
    “It’s just hard times,” his wife, Donna, says matter-of-
    factly, grimly acknowledging that those who steal gas from
    struggling families are also hurting.
    Bob, who recently turned 44, takes home about $180 a week,
    after $60 a week is deducted for health insurance. It is the
    only income for the couple and their two children.
    The commute alone costs $50 a week in gas, and their rent
    is $100 a week. ….

    http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-1997-03-20/html/CREC-1997-03-20-pt1-PgS2635-2.htm reprints more of the series.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    I wonder if anyone else has insight into the point about academic sociology.

    I ask because a generation ago, when I was cobbling together a senior thesis on what was then called “persistent poverty,” I found that sociologists were focused on demonstrating that “most” poor people were not poor for long stretches. A snapshot of who was poor in a given year didn’t tell the story, in other words. There was also a lot of work on debunking the idea of “generational transmission of poverty” — which sounds odd today, when we take for granted that people born into the lowest income levels have a hard time climbing out. Of course, this work was often explicitly done to push back against the Reaganite resurgence of “culture of poverty”/”welfare dependency” (/”blame the victim”) theories.

    I found this academic work oddly unbalanced at the time, because you could see in the reported data that nontrivial numbers of people were born poor and stayed poor for most of their lives. Those poor people were *disproportionately* African-American, but mostly white (as is true of most bad statistics in America).

    This was just before William Julius Wilson published The Truly Disadvantaged about concentrated urban poverty. It may be forgotten now, but Wilson was considered bold for pushing back against the academic pushback against the ideas of persistent and generational poverty. Of course, the truly disadvantaged of Wilson’s title were urban members of minority groups. So persistent rural/white poverty was still not really on the radar … and at that point I think I lost the thread of the literature except for reading the occasional book review.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Cool story bro.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Finally, an academic sociologist who truly has an operational understanding of recursion!

        (Obscure anti-Giddings rant suppressed with difficulty.)

  • This is an important issue, and I think there are a ton of reasons: 1)the “out of sight” issue, with most liberals encountering urban poverty more than rural poverty, 2)the romanticization of pastoral living, 3)the thought that people should “just move”, especially as I suspect a good chunk of liberals are people who up and moved to somewhere they prefer, 4)a very unhealthy dose of pretension and looking down on people in rural areas.

    I don’t think that the thought that rural voters have abandoned Democrats should be discounted, though. While certainly not true for everyone, it is true for a lot of areas, and there is definite hostility–as Joe from Lowell pointed out in his grant story–to any sort of actual help. I have done extensive community organizing in urban areas, and while not everyone in the community will be on board, very few of them are actively hostile. My colleagues who do organizing in Appalachia in western Virginia and West Virginia can attest to those taking on the coal mines on environment and wages getting death threats *from their neighbors*, not the coal mine owners. I’ve done a bit of organizing in Appalachia and there’s a definite attitude of people-don’t-need-help-except-for-this-very-specific-help-I-need-and-this-is-just-a-one-time-exception, and hostility to the idea of extra help from the outside in many communities there.

    VA has one of the most regressive tax codes in the nation. Our income taxes start at $3,000 a year and the highest bracket cuts off at $17,000. When I’ve worked on state legislation to reform the tax codes, the rural areas in SW VA which have hardly anyone–in some cases literally no one–earning in the proposed higher brackets are steadfastly against it, as are their constituents, and they are just as strongly against the expansion in programs that would help those in rural poverty.

    I am not saying that this the same in all areas, and I know some truly fantastic and passionate organizers from within Appalachia, born and raised. I also acknowledge there are other places where there is rural poverty, and that there’s a huge difference between this and reservation poverty. But it is the case in a lot of rural areas, and it can be difficult to come up with policy solutions to help people that people don’t seem to actually want.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      OK now you’re swinging me back to “fuck ’em,” as I live in VA.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Some say that it’s self-reliance and pride, but sometimes I swear that these are folks whose brains have a good lump of brain matter devoted to I’MNOTBLACK!!! and that to receive help in American politics and culture means you’re no longer white. They are the last rung on the white ladder. They are very concerned with keeping it that way.

      I realized the other day a big way in which liberals “went wrong” back in the 60’s: they’re for equality. Which, of course, for a racist, is a problem.

      But even unconscious racists have a problem with it. When liberals say, “Blacks are people just like you and me!”, they don’t realize that for 28% of the population, the gut reaction is, “You’re saying I’m no better’n a n*****! HOW DARE YOU!”

      (Okay, racists, semiconscious racists, and unconscious racists, demiracists, full shebang racists, half a shebang racists, kaboodless but kitful racists…)

      • Rob in CT

        There’s probably a kinder/gentler/more sympathetic way of putting this.

        Basically… maybe it’s just plain hard to help people without coming across as condescending, particularly if they’re not “your” people.

        I mean… maybe not actually hard, but rare? People being people and sucking and all (ah, Misanthropy quotient getting kinda high again, must be the end of the week. TGIF).

        So, in addition to what you said (which I think is true, if not the whole story), you have people reacting to that.

        Shorter: if this was easy we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        • Basically… maybe it’s just plain hard to help people without coming across as condescending, particularly if they’re not “your” people.

          This is absolutely true, and a non-zero number of lefties not only come across as but are condescending, that ends up in a negative feedback loop with the hostility to outsiders that exists in a lot of communities across the nation (hell, probably the world, really).

          But my point about people I know working in West and western Virginia communities is that a lot of them aren’t outsiders, these are born-and-bred Appalachians who are still getting threats from their neighbors for daring to push back against the status quo.

        • Matt McIrvin

          Years ago I recall reading a LiveJournal post from an online acquaintance who had done some NGO work in the Middle East, in which he said he sometimes kept himself going by telling himself “Oppressed people suck.”

          Not always, of course. But being generally put-upon does not automatically make you a noble person, and in fact often does the opposite because you’re under constant stress and you have to primarily look out for you and yours just to survive. You may well feel that the world is against you, including other equally or more oppressed people.

          Anyway, he always had to remind himself that we need to fight oppression and help oppressed people not because they’re good, or because they’ve somehow proven they deserve it, but because they’re people and oppression is wrong.

          I’ve thought about that a lot since then.

          • Rob in CT

            This is one of the reasons I generally have stuck to donating money rather than volunteering. I’m not sure I have the temperament for it. Those who do, I admire.

          • twbb

            That is a good point that so, so many on the left cannot get in their heads. White American poor, sure, they can suck, but if you are in another country and are poor but not white (or poor and don’t speak English), then you are above reproach, despite the extreme xenophobia, racism and brutality you can find all over the world.

          • Not always, of course. But being generally put-upon does not automatically make you a noble person, and in fact often does the opposite because you’re under constant stress and you have to primarily look out for you and yours just to survive.

            Yes this. The idea that [other] people are ennobled by suffering is in completely nauseating.

            Among the many things it does is it creates an expectation – really a demand – that the sufferer will perform in certain ways for the edification of the non-sufferer. (Smile beatifically after your chemo session! Weep silently at the candlelight vigil after the police shoot your child!) If instead the cancer patient mutters curse words for an hour and the mom heads a protest march with a bullhorn, well! They aren’t worthy of compassion.

      • twbb

        That was Martin Luther King’s viewpoint as well.

    • T.E. Shaw

      I’m also familiar with Appalachia – Eastern KY, Eastern TN, and Southwest Virginia. It’s impossible to deny the kind of neglect and suffering a lot of those communities have experienced. But the rural whites in that area have such a profound lack of empathy and compassion for anyone who isn’t kin or a close neighbor that they allow themselves to be manipulated by corrupt and venal politicians whose only pitch is that they’ll represent the salt-of-the-earth constituents against the brown-skinned folk and the federal government. I mean, how do you respond to stories like this? We obviously haven’t tried to create enough proposals to alleviate rural poverty, but when they reject things like the Medicaid expansion, why should I feel bad about poor rural whites? They’re just choking on their own bile. As long as the left still makes occasional overtures (I mean with policy, not with conditional promises of help in exchange for political support) and the rural whites reject them, I’ll save my concern for other groups (like the Native Americans, who sure as hell deserve better).

      • twbb

        “But the rural whites in that area have such a profound lack of empathy and compassion for anyone who isn’t kin or a close neighbor”

        That’s a pattern you find all over the world, particularly in poor rural communities. There is absolutely nothing unique about poor rural whites in the US on that front.

      • Ronan

        Why do native Americans or urban African Americans deserve it more ? How do you know their prejudices aren’t as explicit as the “rural poor.”? In fact we’ve seen on these threads that African Americans (as a generalisation) political preferences don’t neatly map onto those of the political lefts . Would you refuse funding for a ghetto that scored poorly on a gay marriage poll ? This is the problem with making the goals of poverty reduction a part of identity politics. Someone shouldn’t have to spout the correct political platitudes to have a decent standard of life .

        • sapient

          People deserve it when they don’t stand in the way of people getting help. Which white Appalachian poor often do. My state (VA) doesn’t have Medicaid expansion. I’m for it. Lots who need it aren’t.

          • Ronan

            Even if that was true as a philosophical matter (or whatever ) where’s the evidence that white Appalachians are more prone to out group hostility than some other similar demographic? There are plenty of prejudiced non whites, plenty of conservative African Americans, plenty of parochial immigrants with strong in group commitments and little love for “non kin.” How do you decide who is or is not deserving in these circumstances ? By anecdote ?

            • sapient

              You know, I don’t really think that anyone “deserves” anything necessarily, but I’m in favor of social policies that are “deserving” neutral. In other words, I think it’s unbecoming to my country (and my state) to ignore the needs of its citizens. I resent the fact that people stand in the way of equitable social policies, and that includes many of the Appalachian poor, who would benefit from them. I resent their voting habits, their racism, and their general position in the political realm. I appreciate people who support my politics. If they’re “prejudiced”, but they support social reform that will improve the lives of a diverse group of people, I really don’t care all that much about their quirks.

              Oh, and I have no use for African-Americans who vote for Republicans either.

              • Ronan

                I get what youre saying. I don’t neccesarily disagree. I just feel there’s a lot more ambivalence (or at least ambiguity) in large political coalitions than people sometimes acknowledge. The habits of the “Appalachian poor” aren’t really that dfysfunctional when you place them in the context of broader voting patters, of tradition, social networks , habit , emotion, in group solidarity etc. I don’t think it’s the case that a lot of the people who broadly support the same political institutions as I do are voting on policy, particularly the policy I most favour.
                So as a practical matter I agree. I don’t really care about their quirks. But in a lot of ways a large part if that support is more or less historical contingency + path dependance , so I’ve some sympathy for those who fell outside the convoy to the promised land

        • T.E. Shaw

          I’m addressing the specific issue of impoverished communities rejecting policies that would help them because of anti-government sentiment and dog whistle politics. Rural whites aren’t as deserving because they reject offers of assistance; one should focus on those communities that aren’t too proud or prejudiced to accept help. Furthermore, rural whites are politically empowered (many would say politically overpowered) at the state and national levels, so if they weren’t so consumed with rage and self-loathing, they’d have far more ability to enact better policy than other impoverished groups.

          At the same time, my previous post explicitly held open the possibility of periodically offering policy proposals that would assist rural whites. And in no way did I suggest that such proposals for rural development should be conditioned on acceptance of the rest of the liberal agenda (opinions on gay marriage are neither here nor there). But hey, as long as rural whites would rather rely on their corrupt local politicians and blame minorities for everything instead of accepting help, let’s focus on other groups. I mean, I don’t hear about Native Americans engaging in any Tea Party nonsense, and we have actual treaty obligations to those that we didn’t wipe off the face of the Earth. I’d say that’s a pretty good claim to being more deserving, alongside the political marginalization.

          • Ronan

            My understanding of the demographics of the tea party is they skewed wealthier , so weren’t really an example of your “poor rural whites”. My (vague, and at this stage it needs updating) understanding of voting patterns in the US (mostly based on a possible misreading of gelman) is that the idea of the poor white conservative voter is something of a myth . (Or at least an exaggeration) Perhaps there is a specific demographic called white Appalachian poor that this could be generalised to ? Then how far does that get us? And how many from this demographic actually vote ? My point re gay marriage wasn’t only specifically about gay marriage, but that political coalitions are more ambiguous on preferences than the clear policy proposals they produce suggests. I’d still be interested in evidence that shows a demographic called “rural poor whites” that are this far outside the mainstream on reasons for voting and preference formation.
            A lot of this reminds me of the Chris rock routine on what he saw as the dysfunction African American underclass. A lot of the complaints against the Appalachian poor are just the complaints issued against the poor in all contexts and places. Hell if you were a Native American youd probably be giving out about the dysfunction on the reservation!

          • Ronan

            Heres a nice encapsulation of my views

            http://themonkeycage.org/2012/09/puncturing-myths-about-the-white-working-class/

            Sorta !!!!!!!(I’ll skip on the winky face)

            • T.E. Shaw

              I don’t really object to anything in that post, and I’ll admit that Southern whites vote differently that their counterparts outside the region. But I’m confident that the poor white Appalachians are much closer politically to poor white Southerners than poor white Northeasterners or even those in the Midwest. (frustratingly, the study cited in the link does not specify how it divided the country for analytical purposes). Where does that leave us? Well, if you look at a map of where government benefits provide the highest proportion of income (see here) you’ve covered the two regions where rural poverty seems to be most prevalent and intractible. I mean, a kid is much better off growing up poor in rural Iowa instead of growing up poor in eastern Kentucky.

              • Ronan

                Thanks for this. So if i broke it down more specifically to very particular regional subgroups , the argument (about poor white voters being driven by racism and cultural issues ) has more explanatory power ?
                Re your reply below. I agree there’s a gap in bartells argument. I don’t know how he resolves it in the book, but I agree with your comment.
                On the south in general, has there not been a significant cultural change over the past number if decades ? So how much can old southern prejudices be said to drive politics still ? (Or is the change more concentrated within parts of the south, creating a diverse political culture regionally with the south itself)
                (They’re genuine questions btw, and thanks for your engagement on this. I think it’s an interesting topic, and- you might not be able to tell- I’m actually quite ignorant on it and full of bluster)

                • Ronan

                  .. But my larger point about the over concentration on the “white working class” still stands. It seems to be overkill . You could analyse in this detail other demographics (and I’m not sure if it’s been done with African Americans, native Americans , Hispanics etc. I’ve looked bit but not found the same detail) and find basically the same trends and preferences and reasons for voting

          • Ronan

            From Larry bartles in the comments of the zombie post (linked in my link)

            “Finally, my interpretation is _not_ that the southern realignment is attributable to “regional racism.” Indeed, it is more nearly attributable to the _end_ of _institutionalized_ regional racism (quoting here from _Unequal Democracy_, page 77): “In the 1950s the historical legacy of the Civil War and the contemporary reality of Jim Crow racial politics still submerged class differences among southern whites in a system of ‘unquestioning attachment, by overwhelming majorities, to the Democratic party nationally,” as V. O. Key Jr. put it in his classic 1949 survey of southern politics. As dramatic policy shifts by national Democratic Party leaders on civil rights issues–and suburbanization, desegregation, and intensive electoral mobilization of both blacks and whites–eroded that system, the anomalous pattern of partisanship in the South gradually but relentlessly gave way to a a pattern not too dissimilar from the one prevailing in the rest of the country.”

            All very explicable and not unusual !

            • T.E. Shaw

              That comment is belied by the stats cited in the MonkeyCage post, which acknowledge a chasm between the political views of Southern lower-class whites and the views of other lower-class whites.

      • joe from Lowell

        But the rural whites in that area have such a profound lack of empathy and compassion for anyone who isn’t kin or a close neighbor that they allow themselves to be manipulated by corrupt and venal politicians whose only pitch is that they’ll represent the salt-of-the-earth constituents against the brown-skinned folk and the federal government.

        Reminds me of the Marion Barry supporters in Anacostia when he made his comeback in the 1990s. I never heard the term “high yella bitch” before in my life until he decided he wanted to take his job back from Sharon Pratt Kelly by wearing a daishiki.

        Social problems are social problems. It doesn’t really matter if someone is a dick.

        • T.E. Shaw

          Maybe I can put this in a pithier form: If an asshole is drowning, I’ll still throw him a line. But if he hates me so much that he won’t grab onto the line, I’m not gonna beat myself up about his death. Especially if I checked in with him every fifteen minutes or so and he repeatedly cursed out my mother.

  • Ronan

    I haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if I’m repeating anyone . Also, This might sound like a bad faith argument because of some of the past threads on this topics , but it’s not. It’s asked genuinely , particularly as an interested outsider .(to everyone, not specifically loomis)
    My memory of Michael harringtons “the other America “(?- which I read years ago), is that rural poverty in the US has always been quite deep and intractable , even during the post war era (when his book was written) To what extent is this sort of deep rural poverty you now see a result primarily of the decline of “good jobs “? My understanding is that in pretty much all contexts the worst poverty is not resolved even with good jobs ? So are there two different levels if poverty we’re talking about (1) the decline of the old manufacturing towns and cities, and the poverty experienced there, and (2) the deep rural poverty that has always existed, and wasn’t resolved even during the post war era ?
    (Nb i haven’t read the article yet as on phone , also obviously happy to have any misconceptions corrected by more knowledgable people)

  • joe from Lowell

    I took a continuing ed course once in which we read a case study by a middle school teacher who worked in Granby, Massachusetts, a town of hundreds a few miles from Amherst, MA. The author wrote specifically about this one poor kid in his class who was often hostile and defiant and didn’t get along with the other kids. They did this one project in which he made a model that showed how he and his father dragged logs out of the woods when he went to work with him, and the equipment and practices they used. It was a big breakthrough, the other kids who’d shied away from or clashed him found it fascinating. He did a great presentation, they asked questions, and things were different in the class afterwards. The kid starting doing better, emotionally and academically. Power of physical projects, differentiated learning, education as a social experience – lots of good lessons in that item.

    A few of my fellow students, all of them from urban districts, responded by informing us that the kid couldn’t really be poor because he was from Granby, and UMass professors live there, and they one pulled out median household income statistics, and anyway he’s white.

    Erik is right. The rural poor are not seen by a lot of people on the left, and the perception that they’re white has a lot to do with it.

    • Rob in CT

      The other side of the coin from what BiloSagdiyev said above.

      I remember there being one or two “poor” (in context) kids in my school cohort and there was far, far too much snobby bullshit about them. You know, Sean’s dad owns a gas station. [Reality: small business owners, not actually poor. Not my point]. Granted, the people saying this weren’t necessarily kids from liberal households (some were, some weren’t, but the snobbery was pretty pervasive). Everbody involved was white.

      Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I’m only sometimes an asshole, given where I grew up. ;)

    • Hogan

      And dragging logs out of the woods is something people making UMass-professor-level salaries routinely do.

      • joe from Lowell

        How poor can they be; they have logs. There are people who don’t have logs, you know.

        “Listen, I’ve got students who really have nothing. Nuh Thing!” That was fun.

        It’s not too different from the point Erik has been making lately about domestic vs. global poverty.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          Logs?! Luggshury! In Somalia, they only have sticks!

  • steeleweed

    If “we have no national narrative that explains white poverty” it’s only because people haven’t listened to what folks like Joe Bageant have been saying for years.
    Visit JoeBageant.net

    I grew up Western; been on the rez – Navajo, Ute & Lakota – and seen the poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, drugs, despair. Also familiar with Detroit & South Bronx and have watched towns and whole cities die on the vine when natural resources ran out or jobs were outsourced.
    https://youtu.be/ZbWRfBZY-ng

  • In line with what Karen and others have said, I think, there’s really an idea that everything was fine up to some point in time. Rural, racially and ethnically homogeneous poverty seems “natural” or “traditional.”

    Concern about social pathologies among the poor was often focused on tenement dwellers–recent black migrants from the rural South and recent white “ethnic” migrants from rural Europe–who were supposed to be disconnected from their traditional heritage and institutions, and not assimilated to urban life. Rural life among people who were assumed to have longer, unbroken traditions was romanticized by contrast.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Concern about social pathologies among the poor was often focused on tenement dwellers–recent black migrants from the rural South and recent white “ethnic” migrants from rural Europe–who were supposed to be disconnected from their traditional heritage and institutions, and not assimilated to urban life.

      Compare with stories (attributed to early Soviet sources, with what authenticity I don’t know) about ethnic migrants from rural parts of the Soviet Union who were supposed to be [etc.], the evidence being their keeping animals in their collective apartments, using the indoor toilets as wells (or to water the animals), etc.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if J. Otto knows something about that.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        There were such stories coming out of Soviet academic literature regarding cases as late as the 1970s in Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      And romanticized on country radio to this day?

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Is there a bigger picture here? Rural life has always been poor? Preindustrial life was poor?

    (For most.)

    Moving to the city has been the way out since the 1830’s or so (starting in England, aka having your ass driven off the land …) and later in the 19th century in this country, it’s been a long, slow change.

    There’a a group in GOP politics I call, “Arkansas, 1835.” I pulled the year out of my butt when I started this theory, but it turned out to be the last year they were a territory, so it works even better. Anyway, here goes:

    To hear these folks bitch and shake their fists, they’d be happy to not have paved roads or any taxes or much of any government except lighthouses, and they’re all rugged individualist frontiersman, and remember when everybody knew everybody and smiled and said hello, and when a deal could be made on a handshake and man’s word was his bond, and I secretly still sting that they took away my chance to own slaves or sharecroppers, and who needs all these fancy health insurance and rules and regulations…

    But the thing is, people living in cabins and plowing with a mule and going to town once a month for supplies, that kind of country is not the kind of country that can put 12 nuclear aircraft carriers and their supporting fleets into the oceans of the world and KICK AISS on brown people when we feel like, and these people LOVE that shit. No, that kind of thing has taken industrial base, technological excellence, tax dollars in volumes quite large, why, the whole nuclear thing took a bunch of smartypants educated furriners from Europe, immigrants, I’m saying, and ew-Jays, (shhh…)

    And when they get cancer they’d sure like to get chemo and see an MRI, PET, or CT machine early in the process. That is to say, it’s all a big fucking lie. So spare me your alleged fantasies of living on the frontier in Arkansas in 1835. Very few people want to live like Eustace Conway. Very, very, very few.

    They wouldn’t mind a medical clinic in their town, either. But oh, the deficit! And the debt ceiling! And the entitlements nowadays,you know, the entitlements! (nudge nudge, wink wink,blow dog whistle.)

    I will admit to the upper middle class and richer, it’s very easy to live your life and not realize that not everybody just pings around the nation to whatever fabulous job is offered after having pinged around the nation to the best possible college you can get into, that some people’s economic lives are not fully revolving around cash, but kin, neighbors, favors, in-family child care, and, in many ways, well, there are some folks still living in 19th century-pre-industrial ways, well, _partially._

  • mch

    With apologies for coming to this late (in every sense) and not reading the comments before I add mine (280 is intimidating number and it’s nearly midnight!). (I did skim Bilo, and was interested.)

    I live in rural western Massachusetts, not far from rural Connecticut and New York and rural Vermont. Not “wilderness,” but rural. Yes, an educated and “sophisticated” population here, also lots of smart and only high school or community college educated people who fare this way and that. Also many in a kind of rural underclass — think “Beans of Egypt, Maine” — only a few of whom I can claim to have known well (for obvious reasons). Those are the people who may not even be on welfare because they prefer to stay under the radar.

    I keep creeping up to comments and see I really should read them all before commenting myself. (Like some guy above who seems to think that southern middle and upper middle class types are closer to their local underclass somehow than his northern class-compatriots. Self-justifying b-s. Try actually to learn about the north rather than relying on stereotypes born of the war of rebellion. It’s a feature of smaller population groups everywhere that they know one another better, across class lines. It’s not rocket science.)

    Could we dispense with the regional animosities to get to the commonalities of rural life? Because rural poverty, or rural struggles to avoid poverty, are important, as Erik’s post urges. And it’s not all about cow and sheep and hay and wheat. Rural has always been more than that, including mining but also lots more (e.g., grist mills). Do westerners realize that easterners mined iron for centuries before any white people of significant numbers who were not Spanish or French lived west of the Appalachians?)

    • Ronan

      Interesting comment. I think the question of regional distinctiveness vs commonalities (not only in the US but everywhere) is an interesting one. Ive been reading a bit recently about the migration from Ireland to the UK in the first years of the Irish state (roughly 1920s-60s) and one thing that has struck me (outside of the more obvious gender or class differences in experience and outcome) is the regional difference.
      It’s something I often heard growing up from people who worked in England at the time, but it’s made more explicit in a lot of these stories that Im reading, where people from the east (which is historically wealthier) would have seen themselves, perhaps, a bit above some from the west.
      There are stories on the building sites of men (men happen to be the ones who, primariy , Ive been reading about at the minute) from Connemara often being given the hardest/worst paying jobs, and huddling together speaking Irish together at breaks, while those from the East (particularly Dublin, and generally not Irish speakers) even if theyd had the same educational background (ie Christian Brothers then booted out of school at 13) viewed them as almost less explicable culturally than the country theyd moved to. This might be overstated to some extent, but there’s a truth in it.
      (But then there’s the other outgrowth from this, that those parts of the country, primarily the west, which had deeper and longer experiences of emigration as a social reality had developed bottom up institutions better able to cope with it, both at home and abroad, with a better capacity in some ways to deal with those who fell between the cracks. A lot of this seemed to function on a regional, even county, level)
      What to look at, the particular or the general, strikes me as a difficult question.
      Slightly tangentially,there’s an interesting generalisation along gender lines (and accounting for the selection bias in the sorts of accounts that get written)about how people coped in their new enviornment, which they had been thrown into very young with little state help (either not preparing them educationally or even with a basic safety net to fall back on) For women a lot of the institutional help seemed to work through the Church, and then through local social networks they developed in the country (either within or without, but primarily within, the immigrant community)
      Through the men it tended, at times, to work through the pub. One of the only places you could cash your paycheck (particularly for those with no experience of banking or dealing with developed, impersonal financial institutions) was the pub, where youd leave it in at the start of the night then get the balance returned at closing time. And where both (1) social life and (2) hiring for the next weeks work (until you moved up and out) tended to occur. Hence the disproporitante tendency of that generation, when compared with similar immigrant demographics in the UK, to fall into homelessness and poverty and alcoholism/depression. Not the *only* outcome, of course, a lot did ‘very well’, but enough of one to be statistically significant.
      I dont get the tendency to beat up on people for the choices they are, at times, forced into making.
      Going on your past comments around here and in other places, I would guess you know all of this(at least as a general exp rather than the specifics in this case). But I like to go off on a tangent. ; )

  • gmoot

    The OP’s cheap shot about sociologists ignoring rural poverty doesn’t help her argument. There are oodles of studies about rural poverty coming out of rural sociology departments and their modern-day reincarnations on rural poverty. Even if for some reason you don’t think academic journals “count”, there are also semi-pop sociology studies of rural poverty, most recently Edin and Schaefer’s $2 a Day.

    Yes, this isn’t her main point, but I hate the lazy framing of “no one studies this,” when you really mean, “I haven’t read the studies on this.”

    • Ronan

      Thanks for suggesting the Edin and Schaefer book. Is there anything else you’d reccomend?

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