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These striking black-and-white photos bring poverty in America to life.

These somber photos document a part of the United States many rarely see.

These striking black-and-white photos bring poverty in America to life.

Photographer Matt Black's latest project shows us an America we're all a part of but not all of us see.

After two decades of documenting impoverished areas in California, Black decided to take his project on the road, tracing a path all across the country.

A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on



He visited areas that have at least a 20% poverty rate (which as of 2014 is an income of $11,490 for individuals and $23,550 for a family of four). A whopping 45 million of Americans are living in poverty — the highest number recorded. And that isn't even including the working poor (who are more than 50% of SNAP recipients).

While it's clear that poverty's impact is different in every town, the project shows there is a commonality that connects them — us — all.

In an interview with Time, Black explains,

"I wanted to find a continuous route that linked all of these towns, which are no more than a couple of hundred miles from each other. And the fact that you can link all of these communities from coast to coast and back again is telling." — Matt Black
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


So many of the representations of poverty we see in the media are usually from out there — other countries. Black's work sheds light on what's happening right here at home.

His remarkable photos are accompanied by stunning facts about life in each specific area. The captions range from quotes from locals to statistics about the health conditions of the region's residents.

A quick look at his Instagram account shows photos from California...

The Geography of Poverty USA - Santa Maria, CA. Santa Maria is a city in Santa Barbara County, California. The population is 99,553 and 20.7% live below the poverty level. Approximately 10,000 people work in the city's surrounding strawberry fields, earning $1.25 per box picked. Amador Angeles, field worker: “I wish for my kids to to study so they don't have to carry on like us." #geographyofpoverty www.geographyofpoverty.com
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - Oil field. Bakersfield, CA. Kern County's fields produce one in every 12 barrels of domestic oil. Deep shale drilling releases into the air compounds that cause smog, respiratory problems, and cancer. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...to the Southwest.

The Geography of Poverty USA - Brownsville, TX. Brownsville is a city in Cameron County, Texas. The population is 175,023 and 35.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - The remains of an unidentified migrant discovered in Brooks County, Texas, await forensic analysis. The bodies of twenty-six border crossers have been found so far this year in the rural Texas county, one of the nation's poorest. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


Through the South...

The Geography of Poverty USA - Hyden, KY. Hyden is a city in Leslie County, Kentucky. The population is 365 and 26.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Cancer Alley is an 85 mile stretch of over 200 petrochemical facilities beginning in Baton Rouge (25.4% poverty) stretching past New Orleans (27.3% poverty) and towards the coast. Though comprising just 1/3 of the state's population, 80% of Louisiana's African-American residents live within three miles of a hazardous industrial zoned facility. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...up the Northeast...

Burlington, VT. "They think I am stealing something because I have two kids and a stroller. If you get mad you are just giving them more reason to discriminate against you." Burlington is a city in Chittenden County, Vermont. The population is 42,417 and 25.1% live below the poverty level. "You just got to keep calm and suck it up." #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Erie, PA. Pistolvania. "The first 15 days of July featured two gunshot-related homicides, at least nine shootings that wounded people, a shots-fired investigation in which a police officer was fired upon and at least two armed robberies." Erie is a city in Erie County, Pennsylvania. The population is 101,786 and 27.8% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...and completing the circle in the Northwest.

#Repost @msnbcphoto
・・・
Between 2009 and 2013, some 41.5% of Flint's residents lived below the poverty line, compared to just 16.8% of the rest of the state. A quarter of its families have an annual income of below $15,000 a year. The city's child poverty rate of 66.5% is nearly 10 percentage points higher than Detroit's. Block by block, neighborhoods where GM had built houses for its workers were marked by the detritus of abandonment, crumbling homes and overgrown lots. Crime and despair began to fester. And generations of families barely making it replaced those that had once thrived. Often those families were one and the same. The population loss and economic collapse has compounded other issues, including access to quality education, healthcare and safety. There are also serious environmental concerns. When industry pulled out of the city, it left behind huge swaths of contaminated land. Aging and decrepit infrastructure, including a deteriorating water system, has meant dangerously high levels of toxins in the city's water supply. Today on MSNBC we launch Chapter 3 from our on-going feature, Geography of Poverty, “The Rust Belt: Once Mighty Cities in Decline - An auto giant's exit brings Flint to its knees" by photographer @mattblack_blackmatt and reporter Trymaine Lee. You can see the latest installment of this in-depth feature with detailed interactive graphics and powerful photography on msnbc.com/photography (link in profile) Thank you to our partners on this project the @pulitzercenter, the @economichardship and the @magnumfoundation
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Fort Yates, ND. "The poverty that has been imposed, and the taking of our riches, says it all for their American Dream. It's very different for us." Fort Yates is a town in Sioux County, North Dakota. The population is 2,386 and 44.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Pasco, WA. Pasco is a city in Franklin County, Washington. The population is 59,781 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


Black's roadtrip shows us how poverty isn't an isolated problem caused by individual failure. It's a systemic issue that connects (too) many communities.

As he explained to Time:

"'What really dawned on me is how connected these places are,' he adds. 'I've driven all the way across the country, but in a lot of ways I feel I still haven't left the Central Valley. It feels like one place. Uniting them in this kind of visual document is challenging but immensely satisfying because it feels like I'm making a statement that needs to be made.'"

And now folks around the world can get a rare look into these all-too-common, greatly hidden pockets of American poverty. And they're struck by it.

Each Instagram post includes comments from users — many who share that they have a new awareness of poverty throughout the U.S. And it's not just Instagrammers who are impressed. Black's photography has received critical acclaim, including a nomination from Magnum Photos.

Says Black to Time, "A lot of people have been blown away by it. It's not so much about the individual circumstances as it is about the collective whole."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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