Friday, June 1, 2012

Rural America: White Poverty

Posted by on Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Honestly, nothing prepared me for it: the extent of white poverty in rural America. It's bad. It's deep. It's complete. No wonder they vote for the GOP; these people have got nothing but the color of their skin, their guns, and their churches...

  • Somewhere in Rural America


Comments (44) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Sargon Bighorn 1
It's the same for poor people the world over. Religion was made just for them.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on June 1, 2012 at 3:03 PM · Report this
lark 2
Good Afternoon Charles,
Now you do sound like Obama "... nothing but guns & religion to cling to..."

Evidently, Charles Murray has written a book about just that: Coming Apart: the State of White America 1960-2010…

Yeah, there is poverty here but nothing like in the developing world.

Posted by lark on June 1, 2012 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 3
You're in Montana still right? When I visit back to the town I grew up in I am stunned at the poverty most people live in. I mean people in Livingston complain teachers are over paid. And compared to most of the population who work at the local Pamida or gas station...they are well paid.

Welcome to modern isn't Seattle
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on June 1, 2012 at 3:15 PM · Report this
"these people".
Posted by legacy builder on June 1, 2012 at 3:20 PM · Report this
Instead of bestowing your personal interpretation onto the people you are gracing with your brief observation (like any good colonialist), how about actually trying to understand rural society in some kind of meaningful way? Do you think your anti-rural tropes have anything more in common with reality than a 19th century orientalist painting has in common with life in "the east"?

The left has come full circle with Charles Mudede.
Posted by rural slog reader on June 1, 2012 at 3:22 PM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 6
Huh. Have you really not ever spent time in rural America before this trip? For whatever reason that surprises me. Have you ever read/seen The Beans of Egypt, Maine?
Posted by Julie in Eugene on June 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 7
What happened to the ewoks/star wars theme? I demand consistency in reporting!!
Posted by ArtBasketSara on June 1, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
balderdash 8
@2, the President was dead on when he said that. He only apologized because it was unpopular and, more importantly, easy to spin against him. There was no contempt in the original statement, though, at least not to my ears. Just recognition and, insofar as one can be compassionate toward people who mostly hate your guts, compassion.

Anyway, yeah; when humans get frustrated, they lash out, and nothing is as frustrating as pervasive poverty. In this case, they lash out verbally and politically. The GOP is, in a very real way, built upon the spite of Americans living in physical and intellectual poverty.

It's true that in absolute terms poverty is worse in the developing world, but we're talking about Americans here. These - that is, rural Americans in depressed communities - are people who are measuring themselves against the cultural yardstick of American popular culture. They're told their whole lives that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can do anything, but they live in cultural sinkholes with virtually no real opportunity for most people. They may be less poor, in many if not all cases, than rural folk in developing nations, but they have to be a thousand times more aware and ashamed and resentful of their relative poverty. It's no wonder they turn to religion and nationalism for explanations and outlets.
Posted by balderdash on June 1, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Hernandez 9
And now consider the fact that rural America receives more in government money than they pay into the system (while it is the reverse for those of us in cities), and yet even with that disparity, they are still stuck in this level of poverty.

How can it be any wonder that they do not make the connection that cities are literally propping up their way of life and not the other way around? Even with disproportional government support, their communities are still failing. They would all be ghost towns without it. And yet, it is all the fault of us godless heathen liberals and our Kenyan socialist President Obama. They refuse to blame their failed community model; they must have a scapegoat instead.
Posted by Hernandez on June 1, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Report this
bedipped 10
When I lived in Missoula ('89-'90) a professor had run across the state over the summer and at one small town stop was assured by a local that Missoula was where "all the fags and communists live." Which was probably statistically close to the truth. Plenty of both to make that place fun.
Posted by bedipped on June 1, 2012 at 3:43 PM · Report this
All above is true. And rural black poverty in America is yet another order of magnitude below all this. The Mississippi delta is America's own third world country.
Posted by bozbozeman on June 1, 2012 at 3:44 PM · Report this
@6: It's not as if Charles had to actually SEE rural America to post scores of screeds about its horrors.
Posted by bigyaz on June 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM · Report this
The poor rurals would be a lot happier without television rubbing their noses in it.
Posted by tiktok on June 1, 2012 at 3:54 PM · Report this
seandr 14
he color of their skin, their guns, and their churches

I've heard some of them also have cows. And dirt bikes.
Posted by seandr on June 1, 2012 at 3:56 PM · Report this
let this be a message to those who claim that "it has to get worse before it gets better"
Posted by anon1256 on June 1, 2012 at 4:05 PM · Report this
If you are still in Montana, it is worth noting that the governor is a Democrat. Both US Senators are Democrats. The US Representative is a Democrat...
Posted by Montana 2012 on June 1, 2012 at 4:06 PM · Report this
jjm84 17
I think Charles might be gaining empathy toward rural 'Merica. He shouldn't have left on this trip.
Posted by jjm84 on June 1, 2012 at 4:12 PM · Report this
Maybe we'll get lucky and one of 'those people' will  mistake Chuck for a deer…that's what happens in the country Chuck. In the city, white people just get caught in the cross fire of homeys fighting over a dime bag.
Posted by Ian Smith on June 1, 2012 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
@8 is correct.

That said, it's kind of nice in most rural areas, if you ignore all the media.
Posted by Will in Seattle on June 1, 2012 at 4:20 PM · Report this
We've got poverty that rivals the third world in South Dakota. It's called the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Posted by meeps on June 1, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
I have very clear feelings about the virtue of being subjected to the racist taunts of the anonymous coward @18. I do hope Slog is keeping track of the IP(s?) from which these hateful, borderline threatening, messages are sent.
Posted by anon1256 on June 1, 2012 at 4:41 PM · Report this

my my aren't you a pathetic quivering little pussy.....
Posted by shove your IP envy up your ass on June 1, 2012 at 4:52 PM · Report this
What is supposed to be the point of coastal urbanites commenting on the rural poverty of inland America? Yes, you're right - people in Montana are across the board more poor than people in Seattle. ?
Posted by Thisbe on June 1, 2012 at 5:01 PM · Report this
trollstalker 24
@22: Easy for you to say, anonymous troll.
Posted by trollstalker on June 1, 2012 at 5:01 PM · Report this

Not really buying it.

So called "rural" poor people often have houses on 10 acres of land.

Rural people in general seem a lot better off than urbists...more land, they have more free cash because all the costs of goods are lower...they get to drive big trucks...parking? Put it in the back acre...plenty of room... Guns? Sure, let's go into the store room. Jobs? 25/hour at the plant makes me a rich man. Oh, and have you ever seen country girls? And ratios a hella lot better than in Agendacized "Cities".
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on June 1, 2012 at 5:07 PM · Report this
poverty is pretty widespread throughout the country, in rural and urban areas alike. The color of someone's skin has nothing to do with it. It has a lot more to do with indutry (or lack thereof), educational opportunities (or lack there of) and the chance to make good choices (or lack thereof). with children in poverty, it has more to do with the parent(s) and the availability of choices for them.

I grew up in rural Illinois, in a town with 20% of the population beneath the poverty line. It was the most affluent town in 6 counties. My niece (still in that town) said at her graduation that her goal was to go work at WalMart.
Posted by catballou on June 1, 2012 at 5:30 PM · Report this
I for one pity those people in urban america. They live in dirty, corrupt, and violent cities with nothing to their lives but the acquisition of empty material goods. You almost can't fault them for voting democrat. They have this naive trust in the government to keep them safe from the deranged lunatic next door who wants nothing more than to run off with the plasma TV and 900 threadcount sheets after murdering an entire family.

Why would anybody want to live in such a place?
Posted by PuzzledKiwi on June 1, 2012 at 6:01 PM · Report this
bedipped 28
@27 In Cold Blood? In rural space, no one can hear you scream.
Posted by bedipped on June 1, 2012 at 6:21 PM · Report this
Lose-Lose 29
Sorry, as a native Montanan, I got to say enough of the rural America bashing. You all realize that you are being stereotypical urban elitist snobs? And that Montanans are arguably the friendliest in the nation who'd just as much give you the shirt off their back, even if it was the only one they have? Goddam people, get your heads out of your asses! And to add insult to injury, Montana isn't even that conservative! It was a few points from going for Obama (albeit thanks to Paul) and has a bunch of good progressive people there. I'd take Montana over Seattle any day.

Now if you were in Texas or Florida, those places are hellish abominations. But not Montana.
Posted by Lose-Lose on June 1, 2012 at 6:42 PM · Report this
And as Kitty Genovese learned, in the city, they'll hear you scream but do nothing.

Don't get me wrong. Both have their drawbacks, and both their benefits. The stereotypes persist because of some element of truth. But the speed with which purportedly educated Sloggers seem to be willing to parrot the most blase stereotypes is staggering.
Posted by PuzzledKiwi on June 1, 2012 at 6:43 PM · Report this
doloresdaphne 31
As an urban snob, my objective in life is to help urbanisation along so that there are;

1. more cities
2. more jobs in cities
3. more affordable housing in cities.

And that cities are made so as to facilitate the building of community.

And on top of that, outreach programs to help people leave rural areas and build lives, careers and communities in the cities.

It's a proven fact. The best cities offer more opportunities for the average person to achieve their potential and live fulfilling lives than the best rural towns. Not everyone wants to live in the city. Some people want the open space, and I say, let them have it, and for those who grow food to feed the cities, "you're doing a noble thing" but my vision is one where no person is stuck in a rural area.

It is a kind of poverty.
Posted by doloresdaphne on June 1, 2012 at 6:58 PM · Report this
bedipped 32
from Wiki.

"A 2007 study found many of the purported facts about the murder to be unfounded. The study found "no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive"...None of the witnesses observed... Additionally, after the initial attack punctured her lungs, leading to her eventual death from asphyxiation, it is unlikely that she was able to scream at any volume."

I agree with you on the rest, and no telling how much of In Cold Blood is made up.
Posted by bedipped on June 1, 2012 at 7:34 PM · Report this
Yeah, I read a great article on her a while ago at Slate. I figured it was an apt comparison for the book though.

Posted by PuzzledKiwi on June 1, 2012 at 7:53 PM · Report this

Owning 10 acres of land just means you've got just enough forage for one measly cow or a couple of horses. And many of the rural folk I grew up around didn't even manage that; they just let the acreage revert into a labyrinth of blackberry bushes and ivy. The land is worth squat unless you do something productive with it.

And while cost-of-goods may be lower - in some cases - they just end up blowing whatever "free cash" they have on gas-guzzling RV's or 4WD's, or ATV's, or boats, most of which spend three-quarters of the year rotting uncovered in their driveways. My uncle literally made a side career out of salvaging the like from his neighbors over the course of 30 some-odd years and recycling it for scrap, or cannibalizing whatever was useful to repair somebody else's half broken-down weekend toys.

And that $25 an hour plant or mill job may SEEM like the veritable pot-o'-gold, until you develop some sort of pulmonary disease from too many years of sucking wood, or aluminum dust, or some form of cancer from breathing in quantities of toxic compounds in the pulp mill, or just getting a limb crushed by some idiot driving a forklift too fast - all of which have happened to people I knew personally when I was growing up.

As for the girls, well, those who haven't already been knocked up by the time they graduate from high school CAN be rather fetching, but given the relative dearth of post-education opportunities they have in small, rural towns, don't expect them to stay that way for long. Remember, every one of those nightmares in spandex you see on were once considered "cute little country girls".
Posted by COMTE on June 1, 2012 at 8:20 PM · Report this
America's rural areas have become startlingly similar to our urban ghettos. It's the same crime, unmarried underage babymaking, drugs, and political extremism stew that you always get when the economy goes to hell in a handbasket and people don't have opportunities. Only differences are the scenery, the color of the inhabitants' skin, and the flavor of extremism (left wing in the ghetto, right wing in the boonies).
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on June 1, 2012 at 8:26 PM · Report this
Deliverance, Winter's Bone, The Road, Children of the Corn, Montana.... (Just kidding, Montana!)
Posted by PCM on June 1, 2012 at 11:32 PM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 37
This has always been the case. I come from a line of Pennsylvania mountain folk, and you should see the grinding poverty back home. You should know though, that they don't have guns because they make them feel tough like an urbanite, they have guns so they can shoot dinner if they see it. A gun is a necessary tool to these people, not just a false sense of security.

This is what you are missing: they have little money or resources, but lots of them live partially off the land, so they are not as poor as you may think.

But once again Charles proves that he will write unendingly on things he knows nothing about, and does not want to understand. It amazes me that you would let your neighbors get robbed over fear of being perceived as racist, but will gladly post racist sentiments here. How is "white poverty" different from poverty? Are whites supposed to be "above" this or something?
Posted by Theodore Gorath on June 2, 2012 at 7:40 AM · Report this
There is bad rural and there is good rural. I grew up in bad rural, lived in Seattle area for years and now live in good rural. We are a affluent rural community of people that enjoy the outdoors. Yes, there are people that are poor and hick among us but for the most part we are a well educated group that values nature and education. I love slog but the constant rural bashing is really starting to piss me off. Where is the appreciation for our differences that slog stands for on most other issues? So many generalizations on this issue. For the record: I am a Democrat, I recycle, I don't own a shotgun, I volunteer, I go to concerts, I make a good living, I am married with two kids, I've never tried meth (I think I got all those generalizations - sorry if I missed one).

Not all rural places are nice but they are nice to someone or they wouldn't live there. Value personal choice. I personally will probably move back and forth between rural and urban for the rest of my life. I value them both but I think they both get old after a while and I start longing for the other...

Community #31? Clearly you have never lived in a small rural town because if your definition matches the one I read "a group of people helping each other" you can not get closer to that then a small rural town.

Just like people should be able to marry whomever they want without everyone heaping their judgement on it, people should be able to live wherever they want without judgement. I have lost a lot of respect for the slog community over this rural bashing.
Posted by gwj on June 2, 2012 at 7:47 AM · Report this
This just in: Seattleite leaves The Island, discovers whole second America, also learns that earth is round and water is wet. Film at 11.
Posted by K on June 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM · Report this
It is completely retarded to take sides in the urban v. rural debate. How is that not completely obvious?
Posted by Billy Chav on June 2, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
It's not a popular statement, but I've said it before: Anyone that thinks America's black population has it worse than the white population has never been to West Virginia mountain towns...
Posted by scratchmaster joe on June 2, 2012 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Didn't you wathc Winter's Bone? Really good movie about poor White people.
Posted by Patricia Kayden on June 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM · Report this
Sea Otter 43
Damn Mudede, when you're wrong you're really wrong, but you hit this nail squarely on the head.

The photo speaks volumes and actually gave me a funny feeling in my stomach, as it could easily be the church in the little town my family comes from, with a few minor changes.
Posted by Sea Otter on June 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
"these people have got nothing but the color of their skin, their guns, and their churches..."

Standing up and applauding you for this one, sir. As a native Alabamian living in Seattle, I constantly struggle between longing for the pastoral landscapes I grew up in, and complete frustration with the lack of education and awareness which keeps poor rural folks mired in politics which harm themselves and all of us. I know now that I can't truly communicate with people if I hate them (why would they listen?); I can't move into a community and "change their ways" from a position of disrespect. If I want to affect change in a place, I have to be able to respect and even admire the people there, and honor and build on their strengths. I have to change with them, not force my ideas on them.

I think I can do it, too. The question now is whether I'm willing to spend the rest of my life in the rural South in order to build a more empathetic and compassionate society there. On the one hand, if everyone who realizes a need for change leaves, then nothing ever changes. On the other hand, I'd love to live out my life in a community of like-minded people. I want to give myself to the world, but I want to be happy too.

Anyways, there is a ring of empathy in compassion in this post, Mr. Mudede, and that's what's going to change the world. So thanks.
Posted by heatherly on June 3, 2012 at 2:38 PM · Report this

Add a comment