By Jordan Barkin
The photographs from the Great Depression are seared into our nation’s memory: children without shoes, elderly individuals with dental problems, barren front yards. The Tennessee Valley Authority was founded in 1933 to help develop the economy of Southern states, including Georgia. But even today, experts note, Southern poverty persists.
According to the Pew Research Center, the South was home to 37.3 percent of the American population and 41.1 percent of the nation’s poor, and the South’s poverty rate, at 16.5 percent, was the highest among the nation’s four regions.
These impoverished individuals come from nearly every background. Many of them are barely able to make ends meet despite having a job. A 26-year-old Army veteran from Georgia told me: “I returned home to a workplace that paid me far less than the military. I make ends meet by living with my parents and am still stretched thin financially.”
Indeed, many Southern veterans experience financial hardship. According to a May 2015 study by the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, “Veteran poverty is rising. … Veteran poverty is (found particularly in) the Southeast and Northwest United States.”
That reality is striking given the high degree of support Southerners have traditionally given to the armed forces and the significant bases located in Southern cities, including Atlanta, Brunswick and Pensacola.
Many Southern families seem locked into a cycle of poverty. An article published in The Washington Post in October reported, “The Deep South’s paralyzing intergenerational poverty is the devastating sum of problems both historical and emergent — ones that, in the life of a young (person), can build in childhood and (cause issues) in early adulthood.”
The United States remains one of the world’s wealthiest developed nations. And the South remains an area of great promise. What we choose to do with our prosperity is up to us.
A freelance writer and former associate editor at Veranda, Atlanta native Jordan Barkin divides his time between his home in South Alabama and his family’s home in Atlanta.