This article was originally published on TalkPoverty.org.
Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate race is just a few days old, but the hot takes are still pouring in. For some, the outcome is a signal that Democrats can win both houses of Congress in 2018. For others, it is an outlier — a race that a Republican not accused of sexually assaulting children would have easily won. And for the kind folks at Fox & Friends, it wasn’t much of a win at all — “a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.”
The only thing not up for debate is why Jones won: It’s because people of color — particularly African Americans from Alabama’s impoverished “Black Belt” — turned out to vote for him. But lost in the political discussion of the election is one key question: What does the election mean for the lives of Alabamans — especially the millions who voted for Doug Jones?
The state Doug Jones now represents is one of the poorest in the country. According to the latest county health rankings report, nearly 2,900 Alabamians died prematurely — in large part due to the toxic conditions within the state. The state’s school quality report card shows that it lags behind the national average, with a solid D for K-12 achievement, and more than a quarter of residents are struggling to pay their water bill, which is an average of just $32.09 a month.
The state’s poor rural residents — disproportionately people of color — face conditions that recently stunned investigators from the United Nations. In a damning report on the living conditions in Alabama’s Lowndes and Butler counties, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights found communities suffering from hookworm outbreaks — a parasitic illness that was thought to have been eradicated in the United States more than 30 years ago. Known as a disease born of extreme poverty, researchers have linked the resurgence of hookworm in Alabama’s Lowndes and Butler counties to the broken and inadequate septic infrastructure that creates open cesspools of raw sewage in residents’ backyards.
Lowndes county, much like the rest of Alabama, has a long and brutal history of racism and inequality. Nicknamed “Bloody Lowndes,” the county is most known for its violent opposition to the civil rights movement and extreme racial oppression. It remains a hot spot of poor health, premature death, callous neglect, and severe disenfranchisement that harkens back 150 years to the time when it was part of the bedrock of the South’s slave economy. The historical and ongoing plight of counties like Lowndes highlight the dogged mistreatment of vulnerable communities who can least afford it.
The tax bill currently making its way through Congress would exacerbate inequality in one of the most unequal states in the country. By 2027, it would raise taxes on 87 million Americans — including more than 640,000 Alabamans. It would repeal the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act — jeopardizing health care coverage for 183,000 Alabama residents, a disproportionately high number — and strip the state of $419 million in Medicare funding next year alone.
The tax bill would also pave the way for deep cuts to benefit programs that keep people out of poverty. As House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled in a radio interview last week, House Republicans are planning on moving forward with deep cuts to so-called “entitlement programs” (permanent programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security) next year and have been quietly convincing President Trump to support the effort. “I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said. With an aging population and a disproportionate number of people in poverty, Alabama is particularly vulnerable to these cuts.
It’s rare for a political victory to immediately benefit its voters. Major national legislation can take decades to cobble together and is often passed with votes to spare after months of debate. But in Doug Jones’ case, his Senate win could help stop one of the biggest shots of inequality adrenaline the country has ever seen — one that will hit Alabama particularly hard. And, while far from guaranteed, the election could jeopardize Senate Republicans’ chances of passing the bill this year.
The people of Alabama turned out in record numbers on Tuesday. Now it’s up to Jones to make sure his supporters aren’t openly attacked in the coming legislative onslaught.