Disparities divide South Carolina into 2 worlds

All across Forgotten South Carolina, stores in once-thriving farm towns sit boarded up, such as this one in Bowman in Orangeburg County along U.S. Highway 178. Farming no longer needs the number of workers it once did, and factory or service jobs remain elusive for many in these rural parts of the state. Buy this photo

Take interstate highways between South Carolina's largest metropolitan areas and the scene remains similar — thick forests, meandering rivers and lush farms punctuated with thriving suburbs and vibrant downtowns.

Get off those interstates and something else emerges — towns where poverty rules, illiteracy passes to children like an inherited disease, and diabetes strikes 9-year-olds because of bad diets and obesity.

This is the other South Carolina. It runs along the “Interstate-95 Corridor” through the mostly majority black counties made infamous by the “Corridor of Shame” documentary about inequities in public schools. It also includes the “Mill Crescent,” the swath of rural, largely white, old textile mill counties between the I-85 economic powerhouse and greater Columbia.

If you took this other South Carolina away, the state would no longer rank at the bottom of nearly every list you want it to be at the top of. Instead, it would basically mirror the nation as a whole in income, education and health.

Many crippling disparities linger in these metropolitan counties, but the areas have been pushed into the national mainstream by four decades of economic growth, desegregation and an influx of people from other states and countries with new ideas and high expectations.

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The other South Carolina remains shrouded in despair by the legacies of slavery, dependence on a marginally educated workforce, and political and economic domination by an elite few.

Additional social, political and economic forces conspire with that three-part legacy to keep the region of some 1 million people, a fifth of the state population, locked in stagnation: The impact of generational poverty, the shift of political power from rural to urban areas, the decline of agricultural and textile-mill employment, and a lack of tax base to support schools and build infrastructure to attract business.

Viewed on its own, the other South Carolina resembles many third-world nations.

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