From 1980 until 2000, the South was on a trajectory to erase the poverty gap that perennially separated the region and the rest of the country. During this gilded age, the South led the country in population growth and job creation while developing a broader middle class than it had ever known.
The poverty gap between the Southern states and the rest of the country diminished from 4 percent in 1980 to 1.4 percent in 1998, moving hundreds of thousands of people above the poverty line and giving them a chance at the American dream. B
But two recessions in 10 years created a "lost decade," pushing too many Southerners back from fleeting middle class prosperity and wearing away the veneer of the gilded age to reveal an uncertain foundation.
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