How Race and Social Class Combine to Define the Lives of People Who Live in Poverty in the US
It appears that race and social status interact in a synergistic manner in defining poverty in the United States. Social status has always been associated with poverty in which some populations in different geographical regions, in the US are characterized by poverty owing to their socioeconomic status. However, political issues have also been found to be among the most contributing factors. Ordinarily, African American people who have always been accorded the second-class status reflect poverty trends, which are attributable to the experiences during slavery. This explains why some US states comprise of high percentages of people living below the poverty-line. In general, the population living in poverty accounts for 14.3 percent of the total US population. However, it is worth noting that, some states records poverty rates as high as 48 percent. For instance, Mississippi State records the highest poverty level in the US. From a sociological perspective, the issue of race and social status can be explained by the situation in the Mississippi Delta where most African Americans live in poverty. Therefore, this paper will explain how race and social status combine to define the lives of people living in poverty by discussing poverty in the Mississippi Delta.
Mississippi delta counties are inhabited by the African-Americans who settled there after the abolition of slavery. Poverty found its way into the Mississippi delta in the early 17th century when wealthy merchants flocked in the region and established plantation farming, in which slaves provided labor. Mississippi delta became to be known as the Black Belt, not because the region lies in the rich alluvial black soils along the Appalachian region, but because it was inhabited by blacks. Slavery in this region set the foundation of poverty as most slaves became squatters in the cotton plantations, and it has persisted to present. Currently, over 60 percent of households in the Mississippi region survive on $15,000 per annum, an income that is far below the minimum value of the Federal poverty line which is set at $18,000 (Herrmann 60). As a result, Mississippi State is referred to as the America’s third world.
On the other hand, poverty levels in the Mississippi Delta reflect the social status of the African American people. In 2007, Mississippi was the poorest State in the U.S. It was reported that Mississippi was one of the few States, which recorded poverty rates that were below the Federal poverty rate of $21,200. This value is defined as the lowest amount of income per household annually (MDGC par. 1). However, it is worth noting that this value is set with reference to a household that consists of four family members. Mississippi was found to have the lowest poverty rate percentage of 20.6 percent, although most of the families comprises of more than four members, contrary to the federal reference value of four individuals per household. This means that, poverty percentage in Mississippi could be far higher if actual statistical factors were considered during the 2007 economic evaluation. Further economic reports indicate that the economy of this region has been on the decline since the year 2000 to the current moment, and economic situations are expected to become worse in the forthcoming years especially with reference the economic indicators. Moreover, the 2007 economic statistics showed that some counties in the Mississippi delta recorded the lowest median household income. For instance, Mississippi County was estimated to have a median household income of $36, 338, and this was found to be the lowest income in the United States of America.
In regard to the causes of poverty among the African American population, illiteracy has been identified as one of the possible causes of low social status, although unemployment rates appear to be the direct cause of the situation.
Illiteracy is believed to be the second leading cause of poverty in the Mississippi delta. Education systems are poorly developed with the total percentage of educated population being relatively low. Records show that only 66 percent of adults hold high school diplomas. Moreover, education in the lower academic levels appears to be compromised by the high rates of teenage pregnancies because surveys indicate the percentage of teenage mothers to be 25 percent, with regard to the total number of births in the Mississippi region. The recent academic ranking saw Mississippi at the last position of the fifty States (Allen-Smith, Morris & Wimberley 321).
On the other hand, unemployment has also been identified as a significant cause of poverty in the Mississippi delta. Economic reports released in 2010 showed that unemployment rates in Mississippi reached the highest mark ever in 2009, since 1960’s. Unemployment rate in the Mississippi was found to be 10.9 percent. Recent reports show that most youths stay idle because they are not employed. Gambling and drug abuse serve as their principal occupation (Austin 173). Most casinos are frequently visited by young men who are struggling to earn a living. Moreover, it has been observed that gender inequity has become highly pronounced in the Mississippi with most employment opportunities being preserved for men while women are overlooked.
However, it is worth noting that experiences of slavery in colonial America are the root causes of the second-class status of African Americans. The history of poverty in the Mississippi delta dates back to the slave trade of the 17th century. Radical changes in the slave trade such as the abolition of the slave trade in 1908 saw an enormous number of African-Americans settle in the Mississippi. This led to the loss of employment opportunities for many blacks who worked as laborers in the cotton plantations. As a result, most of them became misers and landless. The 1920’s mechanization caused further economic consequences to the blacks leading increased poverty, which has propagated itself to the present.
Conclusively, race and social status are related in defining poverty in the US. It is evident that low social status serves as a significant element for poverty status of different races. For instance, social status of African Americans living in the Mississippi Delta reflects their economic status. This is, probably the reason why counties within the Mississippi Delta record the highest poverty levels in the US where racism and cultural exclusion define the region (Glasmeier 55).
Allen-Smith, Joyce, Morris, Libby & Wimberley, Ronald. America's Forgotten People and Places: Ending the Legacy of Poverty in the Rural South. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 32, 2(2000):319-329. PDF file. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. < http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/15499/1/32020319.pdf>
Glasmeier, Amy. An Atlas of Poverty in America: One Nation, Pulling Apart 1960–2003. London: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Herrmann, Denise. Resorting to Casinos: The Mississippi Gambling Industry. Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2006. Print.
MDGC. Delta Suffers the Worst Poverty Rates in USA, US Census Bureau Figures Reveal. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. < http://www.mdgc.us/articles/2008/8/27/delta_suffers_the_worst_poverty/>
Wright, Austin. The Transformation of Plantation Politics: Black Politics, Concentrated Poverty, and Social Capital in the Mississippi Delta. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006. Print.