South Carolina, ca. 1980

During the time that Generation X was growing up, South Carolina had 3.121 million people living there, a little over 750,000 of them between ages 5 and 14 in 1980, and about 600,000 of those young people were born in-state. The South Carolina of Generation X’s youth was not-diverse. In the state, 2.15 million people (69%) were white, 789,000 (25%) were black, and 33,400 (1%) were Hispanic, and 13,400 were Asians / Pacific Islanders. Only 46,000 people in South Carolina were “foreign born.” About one-third of the state’s immigrants were Europeans, though over 10,400 people had moved to Southern Carolina from Asia, more than 4,000 from Central or South America, and nearly 1,300 from Africa. A look at the 1980 census’s sections on languages shows that very few people spoke other languages, but about 15,000 GenXers between the ages of 5 and 17 spoke a language other than English at home.

Looking at the Housing report for the 1980 census can give a sense of how people were living. The report shows that there were 1.12 million housing units in the state: 620,000 in areas categorized as “urban,” 500,000 as “rural,” and 17,800 were farms. About three-quarters of these homes had running water from a publicly used water system, half of them were on public sewer systems, and two-thirds had air conditioning. When comparing rural and urban areas, the differences were what we’d think they’d be: fewer people in rural areas had water from a system, and only about 20% had air-conditioning. But when having air-conditioning is broken down by race, it shows 85% of Asians, 80% of white people, 60% of Native Americans and Hispanic/Latinos, and only 40% of black people. 

Table 205 in the 1980 census shows some statistics about marriage. Though the oldest GenXers would have been fifteen in 1980, the data on marriage goes no younger than that. In that year, there were 293 married fifteen-year-old boys, 233 married sixteen-year-old boys, and 613 married seventeen-year-old boys. For the girls, 641 were married at fifteen, 1,114 at sixteen, and 2,363 at seventeen. This means that, in South Carolina at that time, there were nearly a thousand people who were married but not yet old enough to drive a car.

At the schools, almost no GenXers had yet finished high school in 1980, but there were actually seven fifteen-year-olds in their first year of college. That same year, there were 22 eleven-year-olds, 178 twelve-year-olds, and 1,169 thirteen-year-olds enrolled in high school alongside the nearly 200,000 students who were fourteen to eighteen. About 97–99% of white children were enrolled in school, where about 94–97% of black children were. Though about 94,000 children between the age of three and seventeen were no enrolled in school, the vast majority (610,000) attended public school, while about 80,000 attend a private or church-affiliated school.

South Carolina’s Generation X grew up in culture that continued to re-elect Strom Thurmond to the US Senate, while boosting Hootie & the Blowfish into the pop charts. It wasn’t until 1990 that the South Carolina Gamecocks joined the Southeastern Conference or that Rep. Jim Clyburn was elected to Congress, making him the first African-American to represent the state in Congress since 1893. Both of those were ten years away in 1980. 

Now-famous GenXers from South Carolina include Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the Barack Obama “HOPE” poster, as well as singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, the late actor Chadwick Bozeman, governor-then-ambassador Nikki Haley, and a bunch of NFL football players.


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