On a recent visit to a poor white community I was reminded that the evangelical church and the US government doesn't give a rip about poor whites. I was in a town, Scottville, Mich., of mostly poor whites and felt heavy by what I saw. Most of the families there are on welfare. For example, about 90% of the kids get free or reduced lunch at school. Teen suicide is a regular occurence (much like the poor whites of Boston). I'm beginning to get suspicious of churches claiming to have "compassion for the poor" but you have to be a poor minority in order to receive help.
According to the last census there are about 15.3 million poor whites in America. What's the evangelical church doing? As far as I know nothing really. (The black population has about 8.1 million below the poverty line). With the total number of Americans below the poverty line at around 33 million this means that nearly half of the poor people in America are WHITE!! If nearly half of America's poor are white what's up with all the "minority" and "urban" stuff churches do? Can anyone explain this?
And then it hit me AGAIN that Chrisitian schools and seminaries have "urban ministry" tracks but no one has "rural ministry" tracks. People are applauded for having "hearts for the city" but no one is encouraged about having a "heart for rural America," where most of the poor whites live. Why is this?
What have poor whites done to deserve such neglect? For 2005, I've decided to do more research on white poverty. I hope to also ditch the sub-urban church speaking circuit this year and accept invitations to speak to mostly rural church groups when I get the chance.
Is there a CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) organization that seeks to help poor whites in rural America. Why is the eye of compassion only directed at "the city?."
Tim Wise has written a really cool article on poor whites describing some of the trends of poor whites, their neglect, and how they actually benefit ironically from raced-based poverty programs that keep poor whites shackled long-term in poverty. Wise explains here how America's concern for poor whites shifted from white to black:
Not all that long ago, the poor in this country were typically thought of and represented as white, especially white and rural. Images from the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl were among the first mass-distributed visuals of the poor in the U.S., and along with early 1960s media and political attention to conditions in Appalachia, helped frame poverty in a way that was just as likely to conjure up visions of whites as anyone else. In line with the mostly white representation of the poor, came a significant degree of sympathy for those in poverty. During the Depression and for several decades after, most Americans viewed poverty as something that was at least in large part the result of forces beyond the control of the poor themselves.
But by the 1970ís, the discussion of poverty had shifted dramatically, thanks in large part to a transformation of media imagery. Whereas in 1964, only a little more than one-quarter of all media representations of poor people in the U.S. were representations of blacks, by the early 1970s, over 70 percent were, and three out of every four stories on so-called welfare programs featured African Americans.
Hey, here's something brave to do: if your church says it cares about the poor ask them why they don't have any programs that help poor whites in rural areas?
(If anyone has examples of good programs for poor whites please link me to them!!)