A few days ago, Rich and I watched the movie Mud, featuring Matthew McConaughey and two young actors in a drama set in De Witt, Arkansas. Wanting to learn more about the town, and the actors, I want online.
One actor, Jacob Lofland, grew up Briggsville, Arkansas, 180 miles northwest of DeWitt. Unincorporated, Briggsville, is located in Yell County, which had a population of 22,185 in 2010, and per capita income of $15,383, making nearly 12% of the family and 16% of the population below the poverty line.
Briggsville, and Yell Country, however, is flush compared to De Witt. The county seat for Arkansas County, De Witt had a population of 3,292 in 2010 with a per capita income of $3,408. That’s not a typo. The median income for a household was $2,545.
A quarter of De Witt residents live in poverty, including a third of kids, and nearly 22% of seniors (age 65 or older). Arkansas County is slightly better off than Yell with the per capital income being $16,401 and only 18% of the population, living below the poverty line.
This is America.
It’s not a fictional, award-winning movie or some imaginary place. It’s the despair, and generation-upon-generation of poverty that exists across America in towns and cities of all sizes.
According to the website Poverty USA, one in six Americans live in poverty. To put this statistic into perspective, the number of people living in poverty is around 46.2 million, equal to the combined population of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, and Nebraska.
The organization’s interactive poverty map, shows Arkansas has an overall poverty rate of 19.8%. Mississippi, on the other hand, has the highest rate with 24.2% people living below the poverty line.
Think about it. One in four residents of Mississippi probably run out of money by the end of the month, even if they’re working full-time. Earning $7 per hour equates to $14,560 per year or just $1,213 per month, which needs to be stretched to cover housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, childcare, clothing, household supplies, and food. Earning a dollar more per hour, equates to a paltry extra $173 per month.
Now imagine living on $3,408 per year like people do in De Witt.
Poverty in America isn’t something you can switch off when the movie ends. It’s the stark reality of what 50 years of self-interest economic and social policies have wrought.