Why Don’t Republicans Talk More About The Rural Poor?

by Chris Bodenner

A reader makes an important point:

While I’m sympathetic to Andrew’s broader argument that liberals are far too quick to attack opponents with the sexist/racist/homophobic label, and am even sympathetic to his narrower argument that Paul Ryan’s statement wasn’t really all that exceptional or offensive, I think he’s missing the point of what gets liberals so riled up about statements like Ryan’s. It is not that he critiques the culture of the urban poor (a well-established code for black people); it is that Ryan does so to the exclusion of everyone else. Various reports (such as this one – pdf) track the poverty rates between urban and non-urban centers and tend to find a persistently higher poverty rate in non-urban areas:

A higher proportion of nonmetropolitan households (28.2 percent) are near poverty as compared to metropolitan households (24.0 percent).

Half of all rural African Americans (50.5 percent) live near poverty; rural Hispanics are at 47.0 percent, followed by whites at 23.5 percent, and Asians at 19.9 percent. In nonmetropolitan areas, 38.2 percent of children under the age of 18 live below 150 percent of the poverty line compared to 32.5 percent in metropolitan areas.  Over one quarter (26.2 percent) of elderly people live near poverty in nonmetropolitan areas, up by 1.5 percent from 2009. In metropolitan areas 20.6 percent of the elderly live near poverty.

Now, are poverty rates the whole story? Of course not. There are intersections of unemployment, family structure, race, and a whole host of other things to explain the difference. However, when you look at the statistics between urban and rural areas, you kind of have to ask yourself: “Why is Ryan only focusing on black people when the problems of poverty and poverty culture clearly impact millions of rural whites as well?”

Does he do that because he’s a racist? Probably not. However, it’s pretty clear he’s doing that because it’s “safe” for someone from his party to bash heavily-Democratic minorities like blacks. If he applied the same critique to rural whites, part of his party’s base, he would likely be losing votes and support from people he needs to win elections.