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Poor White Communities At Risk As Climate Change Accelerates

Impoverished white communities will be disproportionately saddled with billions of dollars of losses because of climate change as flooding risks grow.

The opioid epidemic the Covid pandemic and the loss of a significant portion of the white middle class to a state of poverty has caused many scientists to warn that contrary to popular belief it will be the poor white rural and suburban communities that suffer more than predominantly black and brown urban communities of color. Recent research published by Nature Climate Change Journal found that the annual cost of flooding across the U.S. will hit $40 billion annually by 2050, compared with $32 billion currently. The study said that it is mainly white, poor constituencies who are in the firing line! Especially because they are the oldest demographics in the US and climate change will adversely affect those above 50 years old especially once we rise above the 3 degrees centigrade threshold of warming which is due to happen by 2050 according to some studies.

Environmental justice experts said the study showed how climate risk is intimately linked to race in the U.S., and that what was once considered white privilege in a climate changed environment would be a detriment to a families health. Access to hospitals, reliable electric infrastructure for air conditioning, food banks, net zero homes and condos. Even though the top 20 percent of proportionally Black census tracts will be at twice the flood risk as the 20 percent of areas with the lowest proportion of Black residents they will after three times the access to an infrastructure that can lend help in case of emergencies. Not to mention the plethora of churches and non profits that can support rescue and basic needs efforts.

Historically coastal communities in the South, were where African Americans made up a large percentage of local populations in recent decades those communities were bought up by investors and corporate interests and were considered a sound investment until hurricane Sandy, Insurance companies soon redlined those coastal properties as areas at highest risk of sea-level rise and began denying property owners flood insurance. In December of 2022 a report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that, in a climate with 2 degrees Celsius of warming (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), Elderly people over 60 were 40 percent more likely to live in areas that will experience the highest increases in extreme heat deaths. "Older adults are more likely to have health conditions that make them more sensitive to climate hazards like heat and air pollution...In general, very young children and pregnant women, older adults, certain occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with chronic medical conditions are more vulnerable to health stressors, such as extreme heat, floods, poor air quality, and other climate-related events."

Non-Hispanic whites constituted a majority (58%) of the U.S. population in 2020, and they were also the oldest of any racial or ethnic group. The most common age of whites in U.S. is 58. For minorities, it's 27!More than 55 million Americans are age 65 or older, according to the Census Bureau’s 2020 population estimates. One-fourth of these older Americans live in one of three states: California, Florida, and Texas. Seven other states—Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—account for roughly another quarter of the 65+ population.

These 10 states are also the most populous and include over half of the total U.S. population. Sparsely populated states such as Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont also have very small older adult populations—less than 130,000 each in 2020.

But the states with the most adults age 65 or older do not necessarily have the oldest population age profiles. California is a relatively young state even though it has the largest number of older residents: Only 15% of the state’s total population was age 65 or older in 2020. In the last census it was found that 35% of California's population is white and 15.2% of them are over 65! Children and the elderly are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This impact may be most acute for the elderly population in rural areas. This is because the elderly tend to be less mobile, and thus less able to avoid hazard, than younger adults. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there will be an estimated 1.2 billion people aged 60 and older worldwide in 2025 and two billion in 2050. In most American small towns, the majority of people are old and mostly economically unproductive, and therefore particularly vulnerable to climate change impact. However, little empirical evidence exists on responses to climate change and livelihood security on elderly rural people across the globe.Asia and Europe are home to some of the world's oldest populations, those ages 65 and above. At the top is Japan at 28 percent, followed by Italy at 23 percent.

The aging white population, alongside a more youthful minority population, especially in the case of Blacks and Afro-Latinos, will result in the U.S. becoming a majority-minority country in around 2044.The demographic shift in the U.S. has resulted in many whites proclaiming that they are losing their country, and that they already are or will soon become a minority group.

In her research on working-class whites in rural Louisiana, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild observes that many whites feel frustrated and betrayed, like they are now strangers in their own land. In Trump, they saw a white man who brought them together to take their country back.

The decline of the white share of the U.S. population will speed up exponentially as climate becomes a factor that affects not only extreme weather events but also access to food and transportation. Some communities are so afraid they are open to the shifting of racial boundaries to assign a political honorary whiteness to some people of color so as to bolster the white numbers.

This has happened before. Groups that were initially seen as very different from whites, such as the Irish, Armenians, North Africans, and Italians, once sought to distance themselves from blacks, and eventually were accepted as white.But this assignation can be rescinded if the numbers become too large as in the case of Mexicans.

In addition, although persons of Mexican origin largely identified racially as white, in the 1930 census “Mexican” was used as a racial category, at a time when there was heightened hostility against Mexicans due to their growing population size and the Great Depression. In early American history Congress envisioned a white, Protestant and culturally homogeneous America when it declared in 1790 that only “free white persons, who have, or shall migrate into the United States” were eligible to become naturalized citizens. The calculus of racism underwent swift revision when waves of culturally diverse immigrants from the far corners of Europe changed the face of the country.

As the historian Matthew Frye Jacobson shows in his immigrant history “Whiteness of a Different Color,” the surge of newcomers engendered a national panic and led Americans to adopt a more restrictive, politicized view of how whiteness was to be allocated. Journalists, politicians, social scientists and immigration officials embraced the habit, separating ostensibly white Europeans into “races.” Some were designated “whiter” — and more worthy of citizenship — than others, while some were ranked as too close to blackness to be socially redeemable. The story of how Italian immigrants went from racialized pariah status in the 19th century to white Americans in good standing in the 20th offers a window onto the alchemy through which race is constructed in the United States, and how racial hierarchies can sometimes change.

Darker skinned southern Italians endured the penalties of blackness on both sides of the Atlantic. In Italy, Northerners had long held that Southerners — particularly Sicilians — were an “uncivilized” and racially inferior people, too obviously African to be part of Europe.

Racist dogma about Southern Italians found fertile soil in the United States. As the historian Jennifer Guglielmo writes, the newcomers encountered waves of books, magazines and newspapers that “bombarded Americans with images of Italians as racially suspect.” They were sometimes shut out of schools, movie houses and labor unions, or consigned to church pews set aside for black people. They were described in the press as “swarthy,” “kinky haired” members of a criminal race and derided in the streets with epithets like “dago,” “guinea” — a term of derision applied to enslaved Africans and their descendants — and more familiarly racist insults like “white nigger” and “nigger wop"

But any future changes cannot override demography. The U.S. will never be a white country again.


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