Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Report From Appalachia

Kevin Williamson takes a trip to Eastern Kentucky, and reports on the poverty he finds there:
There is not much novelty in Booneville, Ky., the seat of Owsley County, but it does receive a steady trickle of visitors: Its public figures suffer politely through a perverse brand of tourism from journalists and do-gooders every time the U.S. Census data are recalculated and it defends its dubious title as poorest county in these United States.
He finds a black market economy focused on cases of pop:
It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.”
Not surprisingly, since he is writing for National Review, he blames social safety net programs for causing the problems he finds. This has been a common (self-serving)  theme for conservatives this week as the media has focused on LBJ's declaration of War on Poverty 50 years ago. Despite that, the article is interesting, yet painful to read.  One thing that struck me as I read it was that I figured that region strongly supported Romney in the 2012 election, despite his claims that the 47% who received government support (including almost all elderly people and grain farmers) voted for Democrats to get their free stuff.  So I looked up the election results in some of the counties mentioned:

Owsley County:
Romney   80.9%
Obama     17.9%

Harlan County:
Romney   81.2%
Obama     17.2%

Whitley County:
Romney   78.3%
Obama     20.5%

Now maybe most of those voters are the citizens who aren't on government programs, but see them abused first-hand.  However, I am interested in whether a large percentage of the population in these areas are voting for politicians who will slash spending on programs which they depend on.  It seems odd to me that Romney won by such a huge percentage, considering his 47% remarks.

Another thing I found interesting was the anomalous result from Elliott County in eastern Kentucky, the only county in Kentucky other than Jefferson (Louisville), Fayette (Lexington) or Franklin (Frankfort) to vote for Barack Obama.  Here's what I found:

Elliott County has voted for the Democratic Party's nominee in every presidential election since it incorporated in 1869. This is the longest ongoing streak of any county voting Democratic in the United States. It is also the last Southern rural county never to vote for a Republican in any Presidential election.
Elliott County was the second-whitest county in the country, at 99.04%, to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election, the whitest being Mitchell County, Iowa. Obama garnered 61% of the vote, while John McCain received 36% In 2008, Elliott County provided Obama with the highest winning percentage of the vote out of all Kentucky counties. This made it the most Democratic county in the state for the second election in a row, since it had also been John Kerry's strongest county in Kentucky in 2004. While Obama would again win the county in 2012, he would eke out a 49% plurality over Mitt Romney's 47%, a margin of 60 votes.
As of 2013, Elliott County had the fewest number of registered Republicans, 238, out of all counties in Kentucky.
Presidential election results
Year Democratic Republican
2012 49.4% 1,186 46.9% 1,126
2008 61.0% 1,535 35.9% 902
2004 69.8% 2,064 29.5% 871
2000 64.1% 1,527 34.7% 827
1996 64.4% 1,298 20.9% 421
1992 71.1% 1,796 17.6% 444
1988 76.2% 1,797 23.3% 550
1984 73.4% 1,683 26.2% 601
1980 74.4% 1,668 24.6% 551
1976 80.7% 1,987 18.5% 455
1972 65.3% 1,499 34.0% 782
1968 63.4% 1,387 23.6% 515
1964 86.2% 2,026 13.7% 323
1960 68.7% 1,734 31.3% 789
 Now that is a strong political identity, considering that white Democrats in the rest of the south are an endangered species.  It will be interesting to see what happens in Elliott County in 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment