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The American South has long lagged behind the rest of the U.S. economy, but the decades after World War II were a time for playing catch-up. In 1950, per-capita income in the South was just 75% of the national level − a figure that rose to 80% by the mid-1960s, more than 85% by 1970 and almost 90% in the early 1980s.

And there it stayed, hardly budging, for decades. Today, the average Southerner still earns less than the average American. What gives? Economic historians Peter Coclanis and Louis Kyriakoudes explain what happened, looking at the region’s rural manufacturing communities as a bellwether.

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Tracy Walsh

Economy + Business Editor

About 20% of counties in the South are marked by “persistent poverty.” Boogich/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Poor men south of Richmond? Why much of the rural South is in economic crisis

Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University

After a 20th-century manufacturing boom, the region has been in a decadeslong decline. Rural factory towns can blame technology and globalization for their woes.

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