Sunday, March 4, 2007

The American South

I highly recommend this week's Economist Survey on the American South. It is several articles long but it goes through the great progress that has occurred during the past two generations. For the purposes of the survey, they define the South (as I do) to be the old Confederate states and OK and KY. Here are few bits parsed out from the whole article:
In 1937 southern incomes were only half the American average; today they are 91% of it. If you allow for the lower cost of living in the South, the gap all but vanishes. Since the 1960s, more whites have moved to the South than have left it. Since the 1970s, the same has been true for African-Americans. The South's share of America's population has risen from just over a quarter in 1960 to a third today, making it the most populous American region.

The convergence in living standards must be one of the top stories of past two generations of Southerners. But I still think one of the least known demographic facts of American life is that there has been a rather large re-migration to the South of black Americans pursuing economic opportunities. It says a lot about race relations that more blacks move into the South than away from it each year.
In 1942, 98% of southern whites told pollsters that blacks and whites should attend separate schools, and 96% favoured segregated buses. By 1963, when the civil-rights movement was in full voice, those numbers had fallen to 69% and 48% respectively. Today, open support for segregation is so rare that pollsters no longer bother to ask the question....

Furthermore, in 1958 only 4% of all white Americans approved of inter-racial marriage. As of 2003, 59% of white southerners were telling pollsters that it was “all right for blacks and whites to date”. That is double the 1988 number. Also, black median income in the South is 99% of black median income elsewhere in the country. Finally, "the Pew Research Center found in 2003 that southern blacks were more likely than non-southern ones (by 31% to 20%) to say that “discrimination against blacks today is rare”. In the 1980s southern blacks were no more optimistic on this score than northerners." If the race relations of LA, NYC, Chicago and Washington D.C. are any indication, the problem of racial discrimination may actually be worse outside of the South these days.

The other articles discuss religion, food, culture (branding), and politics. Without recapping all of them, I do highly recommend the politics article (found here) as a helpful primer for non-Southerns who seem to believe that race drives all Southern politics. It discusses the importance of religion and individualism in the shifting from Segregationist Democrats such as George Wallace to modern day Republicanism of the Gov. Sanford (SC) type. Without going into details, the Economist analysis dovetails with my minimal research into the fact that most segregationist Democrats stayed Democratic until they died. The uptick in Republicanism came mostly from their children and internal migration from the North, especially in all non-Presidential politics where Democrats controlled the South until the early 1990s.

All in all, it is a great survey for anyone not to familiar with the modern South. It talks about the good and the bad, but most importantly it helps dispel some of the uglier stereotypes which non-Southerners hoist upon their neighborhoods.