Arkansasization of America

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

By Eli Fishman

Originally part of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, Arkansas became the 25th state in the Union in 1836. Arkansas was a slave state and fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Agricultural employment in the United States is between 1 percent and 2 percent. Arkansas agricultural employment is closer to 6 percent. The leading crop in Arkansas is rice. About one-third of all rice produced in the United States comes from Arkansas.

The leading farm product is the chicken broiler. Chicken broilers are chickens five to 12 weeks old. Arkansas leads the nation in chicken broiler production. Food processing is the largest industry in the state. Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, is the world's largest producer of chickens, pork and beef. With $25 billion in annual sales, Tyson's 120,000 employees and 7,000 poultry growers produce more than 40 million chickens each week.

Another leading industry in Arkansas is transportation. Based in Lowell, J.B. Hunt is one of the largest trucking companies in North America with annual sales of $2.4 billion. Hunt employs a total of 15,700 individuals of which 11,600 are drivers.

Arkansas, with a total population of 2.7 million people, is also home to the largest corporation in the world. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart employs 1.2 million people. Its annual sales exceed $240 billion. Wal-Mart has about 3,000 discount department stores throughout the United States. Its low prices are achieved through extended use of imported products from China and paying poverty-level wages to its employees. Annual employee turnover has been estimated at 40 percent.

In 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over the veto of President Truman. Taft-Hartley allowed states to outlaw the closed-union shop. In 1947 Arkansas was one of the first Southern states to adopt this provision, as well as other anti-union provisions. None of the publicly traded corporations mentioned above are unionized. The median household income for the United States is $42,000. Median household income in Arkansas is $32,000, or about 24 percent less.

In September 1957, Little Rock planned to desegregate its schools in compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court decision. However, then-governor Orval Faubus ordered the state's National Guard to prevent entry of any black students. The situation ended three weeks later when President Eisenhower sent 1,000 members of the 101st Army Airborne Division to assure entry of the black students. Nationally, 24.4 percent of those over 25 years old hold a bachelor's degree or higher. In Arkansas the number is 16.7 percent. Traditionally, Arkansas has finished 49th in national education surveys. The usual Arkansas response is, "Thank God for Mississippi."

About half of the Arkansas population lives in rural areas (2,500 people or less). This climate for the Simple Life is likely to spread throughout the country. With vanishing well-paid manufacturing jobs and attendant management and engineering positions, we are experiencing the complete disappearance of the middle class. More and more, as real income drops and good jobs become more scarce, individuals will be reduced to satisfying only their basic needs -- from cheap food to fashion items to electronics.

Chicken pluckers, truck drivers and cashiers are the jobs of the future. A glimpse of the attendant lifestyle can be seen in Arkansas.

Eli Fishman of Cape Girardeau is the owner of Cape Shoe Co.

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