Author Topic: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?  (Read 2388 times)

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Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« on: July 29, 2014, 05:50:48 PM »
http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jul/29/facebook-posts/are-97-nations-100-poorest-counties-red-states/

A meme circulating on Twitter and other social media recently caught our eye. Created by the liberal group Occupy Democrats, it said,

We checked to see whether this meme circulating on social media was accurate.


"97 percent of the 100 poorest counties in America are in red states. But tell me again how Republican policies grow the economy?"

This was a variation on a few memes we’ve checked previously -- that nine out of the 10 poorest states are red states (we rated this Mostly True) and that Republican-leaning states get more in federal dollars than they pay in taxes (also Mostly True).

While the meme’s suggestion that "Republican policies" are causing poverty is too subjective a question to be fact-checked, we decided to take a closer look at the set-up to the claim -- that "97 percent of the 100 poorest counties in America are in red states."

First, we’ll explain our methodology.

To determine the nation’s 100 poorest counties, we downloaded data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This data covers five years ending in 2012, and includes more than 3,000 counties and county equivalents (such as Louisiana parishes). This data enabled us to rank-order these jurisdictions based on two commonly used measurements -- median income, and percentage of the population in poverty.

As for determining whether a state is "red" or "blue," we decided to define it by whether the state voted for President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in 2012. This means we counted North Carolina and Indiana as red states, since Obama lost them in 2012 after winning them in 2008. (Though either way, the differences would have been marginal.)

So how did the data turn out?

For median income, we found that 95 of the 100 poorest counties were located in red states. Here are the 10 poorest, all of them in red states:

1. Owsley County, Ky.

2. Jefferson County, Miss.

3. Wolfe County, Ky.

4. Brooks County, Texas

5. McCreary County, Ky.

6. Hudspeth County, Texas

7. Hancock County, Tenn.

8. Jackson County, Ky.

9. Clay County, Ky.

10. Holmes County, Miss.

For percentage of residents in poverty, we found that 93 of the 100 poorest counties were in red states.

Here are the 10 with the highest poverty rates, all of them in red states:

1. Shannon County, S.D.

2. Clay County, Ga.

3. East Carroll Parish, La.

4. Sioux County, N.D.

5. Todd County, S.D.

6. Hudspeth County, Texas

7. Holmes County, Miss.

8. Corson County, S.D.

9. Wolfe County, Ky.

10. Humphreys County, Miss.

So there are some differences between the most recent Census data and what the meme said, but they are pretty small. Numerically, we don’t have much to quibble with.

Our bigger question concerns whether it’s significant that a lot of poor counties are located in red states. There’s reason for at least a bit of skepticism.

For starters, the list is dominated by rural areas. Generally speaking, rural areas have a lower cost of living, so the small income you make in a poor, rural Texas county is going to go further than it would if you lived in a poor, urban area like Detroit or Camden, N.J. This raises questions about how comparatively disadvantaged poor Americans are in rural and urban areas.

Also, rural areas are areas where Republicans tend to do well electorally. By contrast, impoverished areas of big cities are big enough population-wise to be balanced by more affluent neighborhoods, and these poor urban areas are often (though not always) in blue states.

It’s also worth pointing out that many of the counties on the list are located in Appalachia, particularly in such states as Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi and Georgia. That’s a region that has suffered economically for generations -- long predating the time when Republicans took over from Democrats in most elected offices.

In Appalachia, "it’s clear there’s a regional problem, born of isolation, geographic and political; exploitation, of timber and coal; and poor education," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

Finally, there’s an eccentricity that shaped both of the top-100 lists. Each is dominated by three states: Texas, Georgia and Kentucky. What ties together these three states? They have a lot of counties. In fact, these three states rank first, second and third on the list of states that have the most counties. Texas has 254, Georgia 156 and Kentucky 119.

This means that these three states have lots of rural, small-population counties, so they take up a disproportionate share of the spots on these lists. On each list, these three states collectively account for more than 40 percent of the counties listed.

Importantly, each of these three states are red states. If some of the bigger blue states had been sliced into as many counties as Texas, Georgia and Kentucky were, some of those blue-state counties might have been poor and rural, and that could have changed the complexion of the list. As it is, blue states tend to have smaller numbers of counties. California and New York have 57, Washington state has 39, Oregon has 36, New Jersey has 21 and Massachusetts has just six.

Our ruling

The meme said that "97 percent of the 100 poorest counties in America are in red states." According to the most recent data, that’s a few percentage points high, but not by much.

However, measuring a county’s lack of affluence this way skews the map of poorest places toward rural states (which tend to be red) and away from big cities (which tend to be blue). This undercuts the simplicity of the meme’s political message.

The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.


This map shows the official federal boundaries of Appalachia, a region that accounts for many of the nation's poorest 100 counties.

About this statement:
Published: Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.




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Offline aligncare

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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2014, 06:31:36 PM »
Democrats have gall pushing this. Name one crumbling inner-city run by Republicans? Nuff said.
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Offline massadvj

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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2014, 07:32:25 PM »
I wonder how many people in rural Kentucky would like to trade places with those of inner Detroit?  Also, wouldn't it be interesting to see which party governs those areas where there is the greatest VARIANCE between rich and poor? 
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Offline alicewonders

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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2014, 09:20:09 PM »
I wonder how many people in rural Kentucky would like to trade places with those of inner Detroit?  Also, wouldn't it be interesting to see which party governs those areas where there is the greatest VARIANCE between rich and poor? 

I can answer your question Victor, seeing that I live in one of those Appalachian counties on the map.  My county is white on the map, so we're not quite so "distressed" as the dark red ones, the county I was born in - and the county all of my kin are from, is orange on the map.  I am have been in most of those dark red counties, I've seen million dollar mansions sitting in the middle of some of the most splendidly beautiful acreage in God's country - and I've seen rusting trailers sitting on that same beautiful land as well.

As to your question, "I wonder how many people in rural Kentucky would like to trade places with those of inner Detroit?"  Hands down, I'd wager my life savings that only a very, very few would.  My mother's brother left the hills after he returned home from the Korean War to move his family to Detroit.  He got a job at General Motors and retired from there years ago.  He made good money, but through the years, he kept moving further and further from Detroit because it was getting worse and worse.  My cousins still live up there and they are having a rough time.

Conversely, the poor people in rural Kentucky live in places where it is safe for their children to play outside, where many of them grow their own vegetables, fruit, and raise their own animals for food.  They are good hunters and can feed their family from the game they kill.  Most all of them have guns and most teach their children how to use them properly.  For many of the adults, their parents live next door or close by - and the grandparents help with childcare if the parents are lucky enough to have a job (most of the good-paying coal jobs are being destroyed now).  When the parents age, they are lucky enough to have children and grandchildren close by to help take care of them.  Houses are cheaper there too. 

Many of them have "family cemeteries" up on the hill on their property and I imagine their children play among their ancestor's graves like my mother and father used to do when they were small children.  It gives you a sense of continuity and roots. 

Appalachia has always been poor, for several reasons - it's splendid isolation and richness in natural resources, which were exploited by the coal and timber barons. 

Also, my ancestors came to America in the 1600's.  They settled in Virginia, moving to North Carolina and then pushing the frontier with Daniel Boone being some of the earliest settlers in Eastern Kentucky.  They were true frontiersmen, and my grandfather used to tell me that they were seeking isolated land - they fought off Indians to keep that land too.

The reasons were varied, my Pappaw said his great great.....great grandfather came here from England because they wouldn't let him grow a beard!  My maternal grandmother's great great....great grandfather moved up in the mountains because he was running from the law - he didn't believe in paying property taxes. 

LBJ brought his War on Poverty to the area, and it just got even poorer. 

Even with all that, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.           
« Last Edit: July 29, 2014, 09:23:54 PM by alicewonders »
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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2014, 09:26:12 PM »
Democrats have gall pushing this. Name one crumbling inner-city run by Republicans? Nuff said.

Thank you.
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Offline massadvj

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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2014, 09:53:51 PM »
I can answer your question Victor, seeing that I live in one of those Appalachian counties on the map.  My county is white on the map, so we're not quite so "distressed" as the dark red ones, the county I was born in - and the county all of my kin are from, is orange on the map.  I am have been in most of those dark red counties, I've seen million dollar mansions sitting in the middle of some of the most splendidly beautiful acreage in God's country - and I've seen rusting trailers sitting on that same beautiful land as well.

As to your question, "I wonder how many people in rural Kentucky would like to trade places with those of inner Detroit?"  Hands down, I'd wager my life savings that only a very, very few would.  My mother's brother left the hills after he returned home from the Korean War to move his family to Detroit.  He got a job at General Motors and retired from there years ago.  He made good money, but through the years, he kept moving further and further from Detroit because it was getting worse and worse.  My cousins still live up there and they are having a rough time.

Conversely, the poor people in rural Kentucky live in places where it is safe for their children to play outside, where many of them grow their own vegetables, fruit, and raise their own animals for food.  They are good hunters and can feed their family from the game they kill.  Most all of them have guns and most teach their children how to use them properly.  For many of the adults, their parents live next door or close by - and the grandparents help with childcare if the parents are lucky enough to have a job (most of the good-paying coal jobs are being destroyed now).  When the parents age, they are lucky enough to have children and grandchildren close by to help take care of them.  Houses are cheaper there too. 

Many of them have "family cemeteries" up on the hill on their property and I imagine their children play among their ancestor's graves like my mother and father used to do when they were small children.  It gives you a sense of continuity and roots. 

Appalachia has always been poor, for several reasons - it's splendid isolation and richness in natural resources, which were exploited by the coal and timber barons. 

Also, my ancestors came to America in the 1600's.  They settled in Virginia, moving to North Carolina and then pushing the frontier with Daniel Boone being some of the earliest settlers in Eastern Kentucky.  They were true frontiersmen, and my grandfather used to tell me that they were seeking isolated land - they fought off Indians to keep that land too.

The reasons were varied, my Pappaw said his great great.....great grandfather came here from England because they wouldn't let him grow a beard!  My maternal grandmother's great great....great grandfather moved up in the mountains because he was running from the law - he didn't believe in paying property taxes. 

LBJ brought his War on Poverty to the area, and it just got even poorer. 

Even with all that, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.         

Wow, that is quite a vivid picture you drew there.  I live in Lancaster County, PA.  It is a rural county, although not a poor one by any means.  But what you say about rural life very much applies here as well.
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Offline alicewonders

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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2014, 10:22:11 PM »
Wow, that is quite a vivid picture you drew there.  I live in Lancaster County, PA.  It is a rural county, although not a poor one by any means.  But what you say about rural life very much applies here as well.

Yes, the quality of life in a rural setting here is part of why people are willing to have a lower standard of living.  Yes - a LOT of the young people flee as soon as they can - and many of them come back after a time.  My sister left for Europe shortly after high school to see the world and "get the hell away from here".  She lived there for a time and came back to the US, but she never moved back here. 

But me, I LONG for a more rural lifestyle!  I would move to one of those dark red counties in a nanosecond - correction - I WILL move to one of those counties as soon as my husband & I are able to completely retire and both of my parents have passed away.  When I was younger, I never thought I would want to do that but......I guess it's in my blood. 

And I've been to Lancaster County - BEAUTIFUL area! 
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Re: Are 97 of the nation's 100 poorest counties in red states?
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2014, 09:30:54 AM »
Don't Democrats dominate local politics in a number of those “red states?”

They may vote GOP on the national level, but their local pols are deep blue. So to blame it on “Republican policies” is spurious.
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