The New South
To describe the New South is a difficult task as the picture is very mixed. Robert Gibbs, President Obama's Press Secretary, aptly described the situation as “New South, Old Challenges.
Let’s begin with Appalachia, a region that stretches from southern New York along the Appalachian mountain chain to northern Georgia and Alabama. When politicians visited Appalachia in the 1960’s, they were shocked by scenes of abject poverty including hunger, malnutrition and horrendous living conditions. After forty years of effort, the situation has greatly improved, but many problems still exist. The poverty level has declined from 33% to 15% which is slightly above the national average of 11.7%. The number of adults receiving a high school education has jumped from 1/3 to 2/3 of the population.
Mercedes, BMW and General Motors
The government invested huge amounts of money in the infrastructure and major companies such as Mercedes, BMW and General Motors established factories to take advantage of low labor and energy costs. This has provided a high rate of manufacturing jobs which are better adapted to a poorly educated population. Particularly cities like Atlanta have experienced both economic growth and a corresponding improvement in living conditions. The positive effects have often spread to the adjacent areas around big cities.
De Facto Segregation
One sign of improvement is the rise in income. One hundred years ago the average income in the South was 50% of the rest of the nation and now the mean income is 90% of the national average. However, as suggested, the picture is mixed. The rural counties with the highest averages are those near big cities, while isolated rural counties still struggle with income levels around 50% of the national average. One of leading causes of the problem is low education levels. The South lags behind the rest of the nation in both high school graduates (62%) and college graduates (14%). In addition southern high school students score lowest on national tests. One reason is that the traditional economic base, agriculture and textiles, required little education. Thus, the education system lags behind in providing education for the new jobs in manufacturing and service.
A further problem is segregation, not the original segregation by law, but de facto segregation. Blacks and Hispanics are isolated in pockets of poverty due to low education, low wage jobs and high unemployment.
The bright side is the economic development of cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Miami and the spreading of their success to the surrounding areas. Atlanta is perhaps the best example. It has become a financial center and the home of hundreds of major companies including Coca Cola. It hosted the Olympic Summer Games in 1996 and its cultural life compares with or surpasses that of cities of its same size (approx. 425,000 people) or larger. However, rural pockets of extreme poverty still exist in the South and only through better education, better infrastructure and an increased number of jobs will the situation be improved. The federal and state governments have understood this and projects in what are called Empowerment Zones providing focus on education and training are attacking the problem. Only time will tell if this is successful.
In the video embedded below Barack Obama is giving his victory speech in South Carolina. As the great speaker he is, he sums up many of the huge issues of racism, exploitation and poverty in the South.
Listen to it and make notes of the issues he raises. Finally write a short newspaper article where you describe the atmosphere and outline the main messages in his speech.
Suggested length: 5 paragraphs.