Poverty, Coal, and Appalachia
Within Appalachia, coal-producing counties are among the most economically distressed counties. The top coal-producing counties have some of the highest poverty rates in the region Of the top eight coal-producing counties in eastern Kentucky, all but one (Pike County) have a higher poverty rate than Appalachian Kentucky as a whole (US Census 2000). So while mining employment is extremely important as a source of income for individuals in coal-producing counties, the benefits of these jobs do not translate into prosperity for the region. Couple that with the fact that Appalachia has twice as many people living in poverty than the rest of the US and it paints a bleak economic picture (US Census 2000).
In February 2009, the ABC television show 20/20 had an episode that took place in what we define as Appalachia (Pauley, 20/20). Not surprisingly, the segment was littered with stereotypes and negative reporting. In the 20/20 episode, coal was discussed in a positive way as a economic boom to the rergion. But as the graph above shows, coal is the antithisis to regional prosperity. The 20/20 episode had an opportunity to expose the financial, social and physical effects of coal in the region. The chance to open a dialogue about the link between coal and poverty was wasted. President Lyndon B Johnson recognized the conditions in Appalachia, and there is where the war on poverty began.
In 1964, President Johnson launched the War on Poverty in Martin County in Eastern Kentucky. The photograph of Johnson kneeling on local resident Tom Fletcher’s porch with Fletcher and three of his children in the picture is an iconic image in the War on Poverty. The focus of the camera is on the two men, Johnson’s profile and Fletcher’s worn face with hardened lines and rotted teeth. Johnson picked Central Appalachia for a reason. The deep and persistent poverty here presented a challenge in which a metaphor like war probably felt like...