Penn StatePoverty
Povertyin America: One Nation, Pulling Apart

Economic Base Assessment of Sumter County, Alabama

Monitoring and Assessment Team
Institute for Policy Research and Evaluation
The Pennsylvania State University

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This paper was produced as a part of the Ford Foundation Community-Based Forestry Project.

Summary: In the United States it is often the poor, and mainly those living in rural, natural resource settings, that bear the brunt of environmental degradation and exploitation in exchange for economic opportunity. Such externalities have become the norm in Sumter County, located in the Black Belt region of western Alabama. The county has no metropolitan areas and holds only seven towns in its 905 square miles along the boarder of Mississippi, with the remaining communities located in unincorporated areas. (The towns include Livingston, the county seat, Cuba, Epes, Emelle, Gainesville, Geiger, and York.) According to the 2000 Census of Population and Housing, county population is 73 percent black in comparison to 26 percent for the state. In addition, 1997 estimates of median household income place Sumter median income levels one-third below that of the state. The county is also characterized by 33 percent of its population living below poverty, with child poverty rates at 40 percent, compared to 16 percent and 24 percent for Alabama, respectively. These present day factors are wholly tied to the region's economic history, which is closely linked to the state s natural resource base and degree of dependency on it.