There is something extremely appealing about the Southern way of live—especially to my 19-year old self that is on the brink of having to face the realities of sustaining a living in a few years time. From a self-interested perspective, the South’s formula is simple: work hard 9-5 five days a week to enjoy a weekend of leisure consisting of church-going, hunting, fishing, and boozing in no particular order. It’s simple, you work for what you get, and at the end of the week your free time is emblematic of pride—just reward for another tough 40 hours. It’s American. And frankly, if this was the entire story, needless to say the South would solely be a symbol of the blue collared American man working their way up through hard work and determination. If that picture, “working for the weekend” in the form of 5 days on for 2 days off, told the whole story, as a 22-year old kid fresh out of college with a degree in [insert impractical subject name here], I’d hardly hesitate to sign up.
For I can put in the hard work when I’m young. I could do it at 40. 60. But at 67? 74? 80? At some point, the American Dream—at least the one according to rhetoricians—allows you to retire. That’s the point, right? Essentially, put in my 50 years, something like 17-67 these days, for my 20 years of leisure—67-87. This sounds eerily similar to the formula Southerners, the truest of Americans, live by week-to-week: it’s a formula that sounds almost too good to be true.
Disclaimer: that’s because it is too good to be true. Because Southerners ensure that it is too good to be true. Firstly, the formula assumes that one will have a consistent paycheck throughout their lives—economic recession or not that is a difficult thing for anyone to do. And when your living paycheck to paycheck, a month or two of downtime in between jobs really does take its toll. But more importantly, the way in which the South refuses to help their fellow man perpetuates a vicious cycle of borderline impoverishment—a cycle in which the Southern majority is unable to propel themselves out of the limbo known as the American lower-middle class.
It’s as if it’s un-American to fund social programs to help out those at the bottom. And it’s even more un-American to accept the help. It’s weak. We’re the land of the brave, of independence, of immigrants who came to America and built ships, tended fields, and built railroads. And along the way, not one person ever accepted help—even when they so desperately needed it. If you live in the South, I guess The New Deal never happened. Any federal oversight is a ploy by big government—surely not a way to raise the standard of living for the region of our country that consistently ranks rock bottom in every category imaginable.
The irony is that the very initiatives that Southerners vote down—any form of taxation, form of welfare, health care coverage, national education standards, and FDA regulations just to name a few—are the exact reforms that they need to have any chance to escape the vicious cycle of living at or just above the poverty line. If you live paycheck to paycheck, you can never retire. If something goes wrong with your health, or a loved-one’s health, you’re in insurmountable debt until you drop. And you’re certainly not going to suddenly fall into a job that pays good money, because education standards in the South are, for a region of the developed world, absolutely laughable. In the words of Chuck Thompson, “An influential percentage of poor, uneducated, underserved, insurance-less white southerners continue to cast votes for candidates whose agendas clearly conflict with their own self-interest.”
Annual salaries for autoworkers in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina averaged about $55,400, while their counterparts in Michigan averaged $74,500 because the South disregards the power of unions to fight for the rights of workers. To fight for the rights of the poor majority. To fight for the rights of the South. Continues Thompson, “The South is bad for the American economy in the same way that China and Mexico are bad for the American economy. By keeping corporate taxes low, public schools underfunded, and workers’ rights to organize negligible, it’s southern politicians who make it so. … [The South] is an in-house parasite that bleeds the country far more than it contributes to its collective health.”
“The hard fact is simply that the South does not pull its own weight.” The South, home to 9 of the 10 poorest states in the Union, receives far more in government subsidies than they give back in taxes. In other words, the North pays for the South to be wasteful and to vote against its own interests. If the North actually voted in its own interests, it would vote to lower taxes—because it pays far more than it gets back!
So how does this problem get rectified? Well it’s quite simple on paper: there needs to be a change in perception. Southerners will have to realize that taxation and social programs are not just a ‘scam to take away their hard-earned money and spread it around to lazy minorities’. Sure, this does happen from time to time and the government must be held accountable for its missteps, but in actuality the social programs of the American system are designed with the specific intention of aiding the common Southerner: the hard-working, lowerish middle class man who deserves to be represented by unions, given affordable health coverage, given the opportunity to retire after years of sacrifice. To do this, Southerners can no longer afford to begin life disadvantaged due to pitiful school systems nor can they continue to earn less money for doing the same job that Northerners do because they are being taken advantage of by unchecked companies.
Goodness knows the North is rather boring without Southern music, Southern cuisine, the Southern spirit. In the words of one of Thompson’s interviewees, “If we [the South] secede, the USA would become Canada South.” Canada South just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the United States—a collection of states comprised of a collection of people that needs to rally together, united, now more than ever before. In particular, a retirement is something that all Americans deserve; Northerner and Southerner alike work far too hard to have that most American of concepts stripped away.