January 09, 2014

Appalachian Poverty Link & Comments

Interesting article from Kevin Williamson in NR about Appalachian poverty. The comments were interesting and lively as well:
Groceries are separated into three categories at checkout:

1. Milk, cheese, Cheerios, Canned Orange Juice (stuff you get free with coupons from the state).

2. Regular groceries (to be paid for with EBT/food stamps, and then consumed at home or sold for cash outside the store, at 30% to 50% cash value, depending on how hard up people are.

3. Cigarettes, beer, lottery tickets (paid for in cash)

This bothers the taxpayer because it is in abuse he has to watch over and over again. Don't know about Boeing mark-up on airplanes for the Air Force, or how all the government-supported windmill factories are doing, but everybody sees food stamp abuse and fraud.



A great read. But what of "the poor you shall always have with you"? I, like the author, am an applied economic analyst, and this statement attributed to J.C. has very real meaning in the context of this article.

Poverty is not to be cured or eradicated...It is a state of nature and is why J.C.'s aforementioned comment on the matter is truth. The meth head mountain man in Hanson is rich in humility but poor in dignity, while I am potentially poor in the former (because of more material wealth) and have the benefit of the latter. Perhaps Charity is the medium by which we trade.

If anything, the article points to the exhaustive opportunities to Love our neighbor, which is a most vital virtue for a people to thrive.



Marriage by itself is not enough. This area needs investment and for one reason or the other isn't getting it.

Also the NY Times has a pretty good piece today about Vermont's governor dedicating his entire state of the state speech on drug abuse. Evidently VT and much of New England is in the grips of a heroin epidemic. It appears the "real America" is falling apart while our leaders fiddle about worrying about illegal immigrants.

The GOP has an opening if they would simply address the needs of people who live in these areas as opposed to chasing down Hispanic votes.



The one policy change implied by Williamson's article that makes imminent sense would be to replace the food stamp cards with plain old cash....or at least debit cards that represent real money that the recipients could spend as they wish.

Doing so would cost the taxpayers literally nothing, but would instantaneously eliminate the absurd "convert food stamps to soda and then to cash" process, along with its equally absurd 50% transaction cost. The only "losers" in such a change would be the shopkeepers who are making a crazy profit laundering food stamps.



There is NO need to FIX this situation. Regardless of it is government subsidies or private investment it will end in abject failure. I grew up in areas not unlike what is being described. I then worked in similar enviornments half a world away and one thing is common to both of them, people live in these isolated communities because they want to be left alone. They are not being held in place by economic forces and they are not being held there against their wills. They will take whatever is offered to them, but on their terms and no one elses. That is why you have starving children with pallets of soda. That is why you have unemployment and a good enough attitude and a hand full of lotto tickets.

You can talk tourism, private industry, Wal Marts and government reforms but what everyone needs to understand is that the people are who they are. Nothing will change this. It's human nature.



I have quite a few relatives and friends who are or were working in the injection molding and tool and die trade. Between outsourcing to China and automation many either saw their wages cut or they lost their jobs entirely. After 2008, many of my towns too and die and plastic shops closed, and the jobs are not coming back. The best and the brightest (and ambitious) moved to places like South Carolina and Alabama were tooling jobs and pay are better. Many got out of the trade; still others remain on long term unemployment and spend their days drinking and doing nothing. The lucky few are on disability.

Substitute coal for skilled factory labor, and one sees the scourge that plagues many portions of our nation and our economy. The White Ghetto is more ubiquitous than we realize. Appalachia just had a 50 year head start.



Excellent article--having come from a similar area in the Ozarks, I believe Williams has it spot on. The dole kills dignity and it breeds dependency. The point about violent crime is the most interesting one to me. I think it's a cultural difference between the inner city and the rural ghettos. People in these areas won't tolerate violent crime--and they are all heavily armed If violence were merely the result of the coexistance of weapons and poverty, the rural areas would have killed one another long ago.



Welfare is a lifetime "Poverty" sentence for those receiving it, politicians use those people as voting rats and then toss the aside when they're done voting. Instead of them embracing a changing world and moving where the jobs are they wallow in the days of lore and it's the kids that suffer the most. What kind of parent would want to keep their kid illiterate so they can get more money?



Interesting how so many people can read the same article and see it very differently. I did not find this article offensive at all, and it's offers up some points that could be explored on their own. My overall takeaway is the quote “...America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.” And may I add that it becomes a lifestyle for generations. In our desire to "do good" we end up causing more harm over time. And not just in backwoods of Kentucky, but in the projects of Chicago, Detroit and so on.



It may appear to be "broken" to an outsider, but it was never really "fixed" by the standards of other regions in the first place. Since the arrival of the Scots-Irish in the years before the Revolution, "hillbillies" have been described as "broken" in all sorts of ways because they don't accept deep-south ideals of status, midwestern ideals of orderliness, and New England ideas of social unity. Appalachians have always played by different rules how ever much or little they've had to play with.



I like status, order, and social unity. Maybe that's why I hate living in Appalachia.



My coal-mining grandfather was a hard-working, God fearing, wonderful man who worked and earned a good pension, raised a good family, worked to buy a piece of land and build a house for his family, raised animals and a huge garden enough to feed 4 kids for most of the year, all in the heart of eastern Kentucky. My dad was far from perfect but he also raised good family and was a hard worker who earned a good pension. It was the grandest treat in the world when we were kids to go visit our grandparents in Kentucky from our home in Ohio. On the other hand, the other side of my family, who also hails from the same area of eastern KY, are more of the welfare brand. They aren't stupid or mentally ill by any means, they are just flat out lazy. Most of my uncles on that side drive trucks or are mechanics (and very good ones) but they just aren't motivated to do much more than is necessary to keep the lights and satellite dish on. So...it's a bit hard to figure out what your point is. If you think that most of those in your 'ghetto' are mentally ill or stupid, well maybe you aren't too far removed from those genes yourself. Just sayin'....



i moved to EKY in the late 70's (from FLA) and attended Lee's in Jackson to get into the coal business, reclamation as it was. i met and married a beautiful and brilliant girl there and we moved to Dallas (i ended up with a geology degree from EKU) as even then there were very few jobs and little attraction to stay. My wife has excelled here and we've made a good life with kids and now grandchildren. Whenever she goes home to Breathitt Co she says its like coming back from the 1970's. Things and life there hasn't changed, only the desperation and poverty seem worst. When there's nothing to do, nothing to look forward to and apathy run's rampant you get what you pay for. Notwithstanding, some of the people i met back there were the kind of people, when you get to know them, are as friendly as you will find anywhere. Once you make a friend of a hillbilly (as a term of endearment) you've made a friend for life.



My job (as well as my previous job) takes me all over rural KY. I get to eastern KY many times a year. The conditions he describes are real. It does seem, as one commenter already eluded to, that he stayed on the main roads. Going to the county seat in any county shows you the richest town in the county. Get off the main roads and go up a few hollars if you want to see the worst of the worst. While some homes will be nice, well kept (a coal mine foreman's house for example) others will barely qualify for the descriptor, shack. When working as a biologist (my previous job) I once heard a vehicle driving down the stream I was sampling, not crossing it, driving down it. It arrived where I was, the man driving it was very friendly and told me he was coming from his grandmothers house which was located up that branch. There was no road or driveway, the creek bed was the road. During a storm, she was isolated. During the wetter months, she might be isolated for days or even weeks. I thought I had seen it all by that point, I was wrong.

To say that welfare has entrapped these people is putting it mildly. A school teacher I know was horrified to hear the answer to her question "What do you want to do when you grow up?". A significant number of her class couldn't wait to be old enough to get their own welfare check.

Its all they know, and all they aspire to.



In the old DDR the city of Hoyerswerda was once considered a model city. The UN showered it with awards for its 100% employment, public transportation and subsidized housing. After the Berlin Wall fell, and the massive subsidies were removed the city collapsed. Over half of the population left for points west, factories closed, and the only people that remained were artists, the underclass, and anarchists. As a matter of fact, the entire state of Saxony (and most of the states that made up the DDR) lost close to half of its population (the exception being Berlin). The German federal government poured close to a half trillion in infrastructure over a period of 20 years at a time when East Germany was becoming one large ghost town.

But in recent years, yuppies with a lot of cash noticed how cheap real estate was in the former Communist state. And lo and behold the rich are buying up real estate and empty villages and turning them into vacation destinations. This is probably the only viable option for Appalachia. Of course, if the "artistes" and wealthy fill in the gaps, those places will go from red to purple to maybe blue (look at Montana and Colorado). Personally, I don't think there's enough money left in this nation for that to happen. But, it is Appalachia's only hope.



There are some good comments below, and I live a good hrs drive from such places in the article (15 min as the crow flies). The cost of living in such places would allow someone to have a very comfortable living if they could lay off the meth, and many do.

Humans are very tenacious. They scratch out livings for thousands of years north of the arctic circle. Our welfare system will create many such places as it develops and people slowly but surely migrate there. One wonders with the very low real estate prices in Detroit if this will happen there.



The attraction of being close to their families, of not being required to work very hard, of doing without and being satisfied with what you have has kept people there. If there were jobs, they'd work. Very simple: they aren't leaving. It takes too much energy. The people aren't lazy, or stupid or dumb. There's nothing to do in these communities - nothing for teenagers, nothing for their parents, They worship UK basketball, it's the most interesting diversion, Most of them worship God on Sundays, and thank Him for their blessings which is mostly made up of some sort of assistance payment. They depend on the 'check'. It's a way of life. The 'gubment' has taken away all their ambition. It has created a dependency that will continue. All the writers in the world can't solve this issue with articles about the beauty of the area and the squalidness of its residents. Until food stamps are replaced with paychecks, nothing will change.



One hundred years ago hundreds of tiny farm village dotted the Plains from Montana to Oklahoma. For a variety of reasons these farms failed, and the people left. If there was welfare back in 1930 and EBT cards in 1950, most of those "farmers' would still be living there. And reporters would be filing human interest stories about their plight.



The mindset that you can't move, that somehow leaving your childhood home is anathema, is a big part of the problem here and in the urban ghettos. The WWII generation was uprooted by war, and then decided they could move again. Demographically, these leftovers in places that just don't support having people live there, are the descendents of those who didn't "get out". With no ability to support themselves, and no desire to move they've been left behind. Without government support they would have had to move out or figure out how to eat without it. There are places all over the world that supported communities sometime in history, when the reason for them being located there passed away, the people moved. These people got stuck, just like people get stuck in the ghetto.

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