One of Romney’s statements regarding the role of government in relieving poverty was as follows. “The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960’s welfare programs created a culture of poverty.” This got me to thinking about one of the major efforts to alleviate poverty in a specific part of the country – Appalachia.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was created by Congressional act in 1965 as part of LBJ's "War on Poverty". It continues to receive a healthy appropriation. The ARC region includes 420 counties in 13 states extending from southern New York and Pennsylvania through northern Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. Millions of dollars have been spent through both the ARC and special appropriations in areas of transportation (I-26 in NC and TN, the Cumberland Gap Parkway, etc.), education (WV with fewer tha 2 million inhabitants received its 3rd medical school in the 1970s when Marshall Med School was built with federal funds and Tennessee received its second at East Tennessee State from the same act, known as the Teague-Cranston Act. SC got its second medical school from this act. It is located in Columbia in the Piedmont at the edge of the Appalachians), cultural heritage expenditures supporting several projects and programs at universities such as WVU, Appalachian State, Western Carolina and East Tennessee State, as well as direct economic development aid such as loans to entrepreneurs and grants to business incubators in the region.
The assistance given to development of transportation, educational and economic infrastructure to Appalachia has been extensive over the last 45 years must be acknowledged. As someone born in 1947 in Damascus Virginia at the lower end of the Blue Ridge and having worked in northeast Tennessee from the late 1970s until 3 years ago I believe that this money has been well spent. In 1965 33% of the citizens of Appalachia lived in poverty. In 2008 the poverty rate was 18% compared to an average of 13.2% nationwide. In 1965 223 of the counties in the ARC area were economically distressed. In 2008 only 96 were in this category
I find the Appalachian people put to interesting political use. The dominant ethnicity is white Scotch-Irish or Anglo Saxon. The common perception is that we are, or were, mostly hillbillies (whatever that means - I admit to playing and singing in a Bluegrass band so I guess I fit part of the definition). It is still thought by some that there is extensive poverty throughout Appalachia. Although there is severe poverty in certain parts of the region (e.g. eastern Kentucky, northern Mississippi, too much of West Virginia), as noted above this is no longer true as a regional norm. However, the perception of universal poverty in Appalachia is sometime used by right wingers as an example to support two somewhat contradictory political concepts - federal money can't help people out of poverty (which acknowledges the money spent on the “War on Poverty”) and poor white folks don't get any of the help afforded to other ethnicities, particularly poor black folks (which seems to ignore ARC and the other expenditures associated with the “War on Poverty”). I submit that neither position is valid.