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Tag: Appalachia

Appalachia’s Employment Struggle

J.D. Vance’s family was not the only family to struggle with employment shifts in Appalachia. This CNBC article follows the story of Tony Bowling following changing times in the employment industry in Appalachia.

Tony Bowling was born and raised in Hazard, a small town in Kentucky. Along with many of the others who live there, he was employed in the coal industry.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“‘Every male on both sides of my family, going back at least three generations, worked in the mines,'” said Bowling.

Unfortunately, Bowling was laid off in 2012, due to a decline in the coal industry across the country over the past ten years. The coal company that he worked for was shut down completely, and his company was not the only one to do so. Bowling enrolled in a technical college in Hazard two years later to pursue a career as an electrical lineman, and this new employment route has been a successful move for Bowling.

“‘I’m making more money now than I ever did in the mines,'” Bowling explained. He is also an instructor in the program on weekends.

Bowling’s story appears to have a positive ending. However, thousands of other coal miners in the Appalachia area remain unemployed.

“‘We’re still dealing with the aftermath of layoffs in the coal industry,'” said Michael Cornett, director of agency expansion and public relations of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program. “‘You don’t recover from the loss of 13,000 coal industry jobs [in eastern Kentucky] since 2011 overnight.'”

Although there is hope in new careers for people like Bowling that are created for individuals who are affected by the decline in the coal industry, most of the positions are out of town and require a large amount of travel, something not everyone can do. Lots of previous coal miners also lack college degrees since their previous positions did not require one.

Coal mining has been a career for many individuals in the Appalachia region throughout history. CC Image Courtesy to Flickr.

Coal mining has been a career that has been passed down through many generations in the Appalachia region. Along with its vast amount of history comes a sense of pride in the job. Although there is an increase in new job opportunities, for those who have grown up with mining as a part of their lives, it is more than simply a job.

“‘There’s a sense of pride and purpose, and nothing to be ashamed of,'” said Cornett. “‘To see the industry downturn tears at the cultural roots of how people perceive themselves and where they live, because it pulls the rug out from underneath you.'”

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

 

The Link Between Education and Health

“Across America, people are falling ill and dying young. These men and women have something in common. In fact, they stand out because of something they don’t have: a college degree.”

In a recent analysis conducted by Princeton University, economists Case and Deaton discovered that those who have not attended college live shorter, unhealthier lives when compared to those who attended college.

In a Washington Post article published about these findings, author Karin Fischer noted that the reasons behind this discovery are not simply revolving around money- pain, stress, and social dysfunction all contribute to the problem.

Starting in the late 1990s, cases of illness and death started to increase for white men and women aged 45-54 who did not have a college degree. Case and Deaton noticed these rising death rates among those middle-aged individuals and saw a connection for less-educated adults of all ages.

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance noted how difficult it was for people of a poorer background to attend college even if they had aspirations to (pp. 64-65). He often felt like an outsider at Yale Law School because he was exposed to people of completely different backgrounds than him, but he was also thankful for the incredible opportunities and success that his higher education brought him (pp. 204-7).

Author J.D. Vance as a child. Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

In the Princeton University study, they also noticed that life expectancy was increasing for those with college degrees.

“While there’s long been a gap in health outcomes based on education, it now looks more like a yawning gulf,” Fischer mentioned.

Stanford researchers have discovered a connection between education level and health. CC Image Courtesy of Pexels.

Those with stable, well-paying jobs are more likely to be healthier in the United States, especially since the United States holds a system of employment-based health care. However, the relationship between education and health is not strictly reliant upon solely socioeconomic status.

Case and Deaton have their own predictions as to why this is happening. They connected the mortality rate among those without college degrees to rising deaths from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide- what they are calling “deaths of despair.” Drug and alcohol addiction were also reoccurring issues that J.D. Vance wrote about in his memoir.

“Their theory goes like this: Over the past several decades, the economy has shifted, eliminating many of the jobs that once went to people without college degrees. The share of men in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, who are not in the work force has more than tripled since the late 1960s. Those who do have jobs are unlikely to be pulling in the same sorts of wages as generations before them.”

According to Case and Deaton, those who do not have college degrees have reported being unhappier than those with college experience. From this, they may turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Rural America was especially negatively impacted by the changing economy, and the people in these areas tend to be white, older, and less-educated than those living in cities and suburbs.

Experts are not saying college is the answer for all of these striking issues, especially since college tuition is too expensive for many affected by these findings. Instead, they recommend changes in policy that “could help ease the disadvantage that comes from not having a degree.” Case and Deaton also want to alter the connection between employment and health care, where education will still matter, but policy changes could change its strong connection to health.

Even though more people today are attending college than those in the past, it is important to consider the effects it has on those that are not able to attend college.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

 

The Cycle of Poverty in Appalachia Continues

“Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis.”

According to “The Original Underclass,” an article published in The Atlantic in September 2016, the number of out-of-wedlock births and unemployed males have increased dramatically. Along with reports of high rates of opiate addiction and rising mortality rates, working class white people in America seem to be in trouble.

In the 1950s, the white working class prospered from performing physical labor post-World War II. Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance explains that his grandparents moved from Kentucky to Ohio in pursuit of more opportunities. They escaped the poor conditions of Kentucky and raised a middle class family in Ohio, like many families did at the time.

This opportunity for so many following the war would not last forever.

The hope of achieving permanent upward mobility was not as easy as it seemed to be in previous years. The areas that people moved to after World War II, like the Rust Belt, stopped showing great opportunity. J.D. Vance tells the story of the diminishing idea of the American Dream within his memoir.

The Rust Belt region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Working class Americans in the Appalachia region, where J.D. Vance spent time growing up, are especially struggling. Appalachian residents now find it very hard to break their cycle of ongoing poverty.

“I am a hill person. So is much of America’s white working class,” Vance writes. “And we hill people aren’t doing very well.”

Although Vance managed to escape this detrimental cycle with the help of his grandmother, it is extremely hard for most to find resources to succeed while living in a poor environment.

“Many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them,” Vance explained.

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

A New York Times article from 2015 reviewed a study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren which exposed a brutal truth about upward mobility: children who grow up in poor neighborhoods instead of moving to areas with more opportunities are more likely to remain low-income. These effects can last for several generations.

Overall, the study concluded that what matters in terms of upward mobility is not just the quality of one’s neighborhood, but also the number of childhood years he/she is exposed to it. The earlier they move out of poor conditions, the more likely they are to succeed.

For many who are forced to live in these sinking areas, the idea of the American Dream is diminishing. The Appalachia region consists of some of the poorest areas in the United States.

For Vance, fixing these deeply rooted issues is not going to be fixed by the government alone.

“These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else,” Vance contends. “We created them, and only we can fix them.”

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Heroin Crisis is Taking Lives of Many in Appalachia

“The worst part of overdosing was waking up,” claimed a West Virginia heroin user.

A recent New Yorker article follows the lives of several people in West Virginia, exposing the widespread problem of heroin usage in poorer areas of the Appalachian region.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few of the Appalachian states consist of North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi, possessing some of the poorest regions in the country.

West Virginia, an Appalachian state, has the highest overdose death rate in the country.

What used to be a problem with largely prescribed opiate drugs has now pivoted towards a large increase in the use of heroin.

Heroin has become a cheap alternative to prescription pain medication to many people. A recent drop in the use of opioid prescription medications coincided with a spike in heroin usage.

An oxycodone pill now costs around eighty dollars, while a dose of heroin costs a mere ten.

In the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance notes several times that prescription drugs were a problem not only in his town, but in his household, with his mother being an addict. He also noted that in his town, it was understood that heroin was thought to be more dangerous than prescription medications; it was a sign of desperation.

Along with the spike in heroin usage, the amount of overdoses has increased immensely as well.

“They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die,” a medic noted.

According to the New Yorker article, nearly all of the addicts in West Virginia are white, born in the area, and have modest to little income. High levels of poverty and joblessness produce psychological distress, which in turn, can be numbed by the use of heroin and prescription drugs. Unfortunately for many of these heroin users, it often leads to overdose.

Heroin can be found in powder and pill form. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s the scary part- that it’s becoming the norm,” a West Virginia resident said within the article, referring to heroin overdose.

The widespread and detrimental use of heroin on a person can also affect the family as a whole. As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, many children are often exposed to the traumatic effects of having a heroin addict for a parent. A report on child welfare and substance abuse claims that being raised by a drug-dependent parent leads to:

  • poor cognitive, delayed social and emotional development
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health symptoms
  • physical health issues
  • substance-use problems for the child

For families like J.D. Vance’s, growing up around drugs is a popular issue in their area. Recently, the drug of choice seems to be heroin, in replacement of prescription opioids.

“Heroin has become a social contagion,” claimed psychotherapist Peter Callahan.

How to solve the lethal problem? According to the New Yorker article, it will take time. However, the state of West Virginia has begun to treat the heroin epidemic as a public-health problem and aims to take further steps to diminish this deadly drug that takes the lives of so many Appalachia residents.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office