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Friday, 06 January 2017 05:14

Blue State Voters Subsidize Southern Red State Voters, Not the Other Way Around

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Us south censusSouthern states lead the red states in social safety net hypocrisy. (Map: Wikipedia )

A recent article in Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) scathingly debunks the "racialized rural mythology" that conservative white rural voters subsidize urban residents. In fact, in general, the opposite is true. FAIR rebuts this fiction, which is embedded in rural culture and politics, with the revealing raw facts:

On an individual level, too, rural residents are more likely to receive government benefits than urban or suburban residents; a Pew survey (12/18/12) found that 62 percent of rural residents had received Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or unemployment benefits, vs. 54 percent of urban dwellers and 53 percent of suburbanites.

In a 2012 BuzzFlash commentary, I noted that Mitt Romney received his greatest support from a significant portion of Americans he referred to as "moochers," who reside in the rural South. The Tax Foundation found that the Southern states have the largest percentage of people who don't pay income taxes, in general, due to low income or tax avoidance:

Nine of the ten states with the largest percentage of nonpayers are in the South and Southwest. In Mississippi, 45 percent of federal tax returns remit nothing or receive money with their federal tax returns; that is the highest percentage nationally. Georgia is next at 41 percent, followed by Arkansas at 41 percent, and Alabama, South Carolina, and New Mexico at 40 percent.

These high percentages of income tax non-filing are indicative of blue states being much more likely to subsidize red states than the other way around. Yet, every election, the myth that white rural voters are paying to prop up poor people of color in cities is trotted out. In fact, as I noted in 2012, the state of Mississippi received $2.73 in federal support for every dollar state residents paid to the IRS. The net flow of tax dollars into Mississippi is fairly typical of Southern states, as a map in a Mother Jones article reveals. Meanwhile, solid blue states  -- such as California, Illinois and New York -- receive less money back from the federal government than the state residents pay to the IRS.

Of course, come election time, Donald Trump stoked the festering myth of rural white voters financially supporting a government that gives their limited funds to "freeloaders." FAIR correctly identified this as a weaponized "racial myth."

FAIR brings up another related myth: the idea that rural areas have decrepit roads because highway construction money is lavishly spent in urban areas. The article makes short shrift of the shibboleth:

Road spending in particular is notoriously skewed toward rural areas. “For all its talk of geographic inequality, rural Minnesota has been getting more than its fair share of road money for a long time,” reports the streets.mn blog (1/14/15), with a map illustrating which counties get less in state highway funds than they contribute (mostly Minneapolis/St. Paul and their suburbs) and which get more (most of the others). A Brookings report (3/1/03) taking Ohio as a case study found that

urban counties consistently took home a smaller share of state highway funds than suburban and rural counties relative to
their amount of vehicle traffic (vehicle miles traveled), car ownership (vehicle registrations) and demand for driving (gasoline sales).

If these two examples of state highway funding are indicative of other states, it's clear the notion that rural areas are being shortchanged on road construction is utterly false.

In essence, the notion that "the government" favors urban areas and poor people of color over rural areas is debunked by statistical analysis. Nonetheless, the continued support for conservatives who advocate cutting safety net programs and other government funding (that actually benefits the denizens of red-state rural areas) remains a conundrum. In 2013, I wrote about Kentucky Republican Congressman Hal Rodgers, who continues to get re-elected in his district by landslide margins even though he is an ardent advocate of drastically reducing government programs such as food stamps -- despite the fact that more than 50 percent of his 98 percent white district is made up of food stamp recipients.

The Root reveals that in 2012, "of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won 213."

Anybody who still believes that rural white voters are in fact subsidizing people of color in urban areas, I have a Trump Tower to sell you.