Fargo or Bust: The State Income Numbers

Last Thursday, the Census Bureau released the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates of poverty and income. Based on a much larger survey sample than the older Current Population Survey (the CPS numbers were released at the beginning of last week), the ACS affords a closer look at state, regional, and local income patterns.  It is not a pretty picture.

A scroll through the annual income numbers (see map below), underscores a familiar pattern: those states with incomes below (and sometimes substantially below) the national median clustered in the Deep South and upper Midwest, those with higher incomes on the coasts and across the Sunbelt.  The Rustbelt states, especially after 2007, tumble into the lower-income tier with each dip in the business cycle.

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But more remarkable than the relative position of the rich states and poor states are the measures of change across the last twelve years.  Between 2000 and 2012, real (inflation-adjusted) median income grew in only nine states.   Indeed, the only defense against stagnant or falling incomes across this span was the happy accident of a commodity or energy boom—which yielded modest income growth in states like West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

Between 2007 and 2012 (across the last recession and recovery), median income grew in only two states: North and South Dakota. In the latter, the growth was barely half a percentage point.  Every other state saw median incomes fall, in thirty-four states by more than 5 percent, in eight states by more than 10 percent.

Even more troubling, the recovery phase of that business cycle (since 2009) has yielded real income gains in only five states: the Dakotas (again), West Virginia, Nebraska, and the District of Columbia.  By contrast, fifteen states saw median income fall more than five percent even as the national economy recovered.

Colin Gordon is a professor of history at the University of Iowa. He writes widely on the history of American public policy and is the author, most recently, of Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality, published by the Institute for Policy Studies at www.inequality.org

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.