12/13/2007 07:47 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Peaceful Revolution : Caring for the Poor: The South is Rising Again

If the true gauge of any government is how it cares for the poor, the Southern states used to be pretty good. From Texas to Georgia and up to Kentucky, these states were part of the Democratic coalition that brought us the minimum wage along with health coverage and income supports for the elderly, disabled, and poor. Yes, the South was even pivotal in establishing welfare as we knew, when we used to pay low income, single moms to stay at home and care for their children.

The Democrats lost the South in the 1970s, and today it is viewed as solidly Republican, part of the red state group that twice helped elect George W. Bush. And it has not been kind to the poor. Compared to the East, Midwest or West, the Southern states have the highest rates of people living in poverty (13.8%) [PDF] and without health insurance (19%) [PDF].

But the South is changing. Which three states provided universal pre-kindergarten to four-year-olds by 2002? Was it those blue bastions of liberalism, California, Massachusetts, and New York? No, the list reads Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida [PDF].

That is not a fluke. A new report [PDF] released by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network reveals which states are currently considering legislation to support low-income, working families. The legislation ranges from health insurance supports to wage protections to access to child care services for the working poor. Almost half of the states (24) have no relevant bills under consideration, but among those who do we find Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missisippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. We don't know whether the legislation will pass, but introducing these bills is a start.

Okay, so I'm guilty of revisionist history. The South largely supported the Democratic coalition in the distant past because the Republicans led the North in the Civil War (yes, Abe Lincoln was a Republican). But that is not what's going on today. Indeed, if the South is turning into a bunch of blue states, as the evidence suggests, then successful candidates in either party will need to provide concrete proposals to help low-income working families if they hope to win the South. Liberal politics look to be the new, winning Southern strategy.

Robert Drago is a Professor of Labor Studies and Women's Studies at Penn State University, and the moderator of the workfam newsgroup. His latest book is Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life.

A Peaceful Revolution is a weekly blog about work/life satisfaction done in collaboration with Read a blog by a leading thinker in the field every Tuesday.