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Project Aims to Highlight, Improve Quality of Life in the South

A crescent-shaped swath of the South lags the country on issues such as poverty, education, and health, and a relatively new project hopes to draw attention to that under-served area and stimulate improvement.

The "Southern Crescent" is a project focused on that region, led by the Center for a Better South, a Charleston, S.C.-based nonpartisan think tank dedicated to developing progressive ideas to better the South.

The Southern Crescent goes from eastern Virginia through the Carolinas before curving through Georgia and lower Alabama and up through the Mississippi Delta. The project's website shows photos of and describes rural communities throughout the crescent in an effort to communicate the region's challenges, particularly in areas that are "forgotten by roaring Southern engines like Atlanta, Charlotte, and coastal dynamos fueled by tourism."

"What the center is trying to do is draw attention to this forgotten area. There's a romance to the rural South, but the reality is that there's an enormous challenge and lack of opportunity to keep these communities vibrant," said Andy Brack, a self-employed journalist and head of the nonprofit center, in a recent Post and Courier article.

A combination of factors, including the legacy of slavery, rural areas' loss of political clout, and the decline of family farming, have shaped this region and its modern-day struggles, according to the news article.

The center also published a book this month, the 2013 Briefing Book on the South, to enable policy makers, academics, and community leaders to better understand the South. The report has interesting statistics, such as: eight of the nation's 10 poorest states are in the South (Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and North Carolina), and seven of the 10 states with the worst graduation rates also are in the South (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina). The 58-page book also breaks down statistics for each state, such as 95.6 percent of Alabama land is rural, but 59 percent of Alabamians live in urban areas.

"The data suggest the South is a diverse economic engine that continues to face educational, environmental, poverty, health, and other challenges brought on, in large part, by a long period of neglect following the Civil War," according to the book. "We hope thinking Southern leaders will consider the data and redouble efforts to leapfrog our region away from the bottom through creative policy efforts that will improve education and health care, while reducing poverty and unemployment."

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