The Social Crisis in Appalachia

Appalachian_region_of_United_StatesFrom the World Socialist Web Site::

This article is the first of a series on the history, economy, social and environmental conditions in the Appalachian region of the United States. Part 2 was published on July 24, part 3 on July 27, and part 4 on July 30. World Socialist Web Site reporters recently visited the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky and southwestern West Virginia and interviewed residents on their conditions of life. Accompanying interviews are posted in four parts here: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4.

The region has long suffered a deep economic distress. One-third of the 100 poorest counties in the United States, as measured by median household income, are concentrated in the coalfields. This “pocket of poverty,” as economists sometimes refer to it, has, for decades, recorded extremely high levels of deprivation, unemployment and all the social problems that accompany them. This has been exacerbated by the dearth of government spending on the region and scarcity of basic infrastructure—freeways, commuter rail, airports, Internet connectivity, public universities—which lend the region a remote and disconnected air…

[continues at the World Socialist Web Site:]

13 Comments on "The Social Crisis in Appalachia"

  1. Hadrian999 | Aug 5, 2010 at 1:54 am |

    if the usa ever fractures like some people expect Appalachia will be like the Balkans

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  3. Your Mom | Aug 5, 2010 at 8:13 am |

    Appalachia is in “social crisis” because much of the native population has CHOSEN to cling to outdated, counter-productive cultural habits.

    The earliest white settlers of many poverty-stricken regions of Appalachia were overwhelmingly Scots-Irish. These people were from the English/Scottish border, a wild and lawless place where fighting, arrogance and drunkenness were praised while thriftiness, farming, hard work and learning were dismissed as artifacts of the upper class. Naturally, the immigrants to Appalachia brought their social attitudes with them … same as other immigrants to America brought their social attitudes. Why did so many Chinese immigrants operate laundries or tailor shops? Because it was an entrepreneurial enterprise a family could begin with only limited capital investment. Why do so many American beer companies have German names such as Coors, Heineken, Pabst, and Anheuser-Busch? Because Germany had a culture of beer-brewing. Why were so many Jewish immigrants white collar professionals? Because Jewish culture valued education. And so on, with each immigrant group having their own cultural inheritance. (See Grady McWhitney's 1989 book “Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South” for more details…)

    So when Appalachia is in “social crisis,” it says more about the cultural attitudes of Appalachians than anything else. Envy — not capitalism, but ENVY — is what keeps people trapped in poverty for generations. As sociologist Helmut Schoeck wrote in his 1966 book “Envy: A Theory of Human Behavior””:

    “A self-pitying inclination to contemplate another's superiority or advantages, combined with a vague belief in his being the cause of one's own deprivation, is also to be found among educated members of our modern societies who really ought to know better. The primitive people's belief in black magic differs little from modern ideas. Whereas the socialist believes himself robbed by the employer, just as the politician in a developing country believes himself robbed by the industrial countries, so primitive man believes himself robbed by his neighbor, the latter having succeeded by black magic in spiriting away to his own fields part of the former's harvest.”

    • Connie Dobbs | Aug 5, 2010 at 9:23 am |

      Shit. I hate having to agree with you, but you're right. Not only has the culture “chosen” their backwards culture, but they also tend to drive away anyone who doesn't share those values, either intentionally with their jesus-flavored witch-hunts, or indirectly with the stagnation and lack of (not opportunity but) ambition. As someone who spent the first 18 years of her life there, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the place is a hellhole. The only bright spots are in the natural beauty (at least what Massey hasn't destroyed yet) and in some of the cities. Stay off the backroads.

    • Wow blame the victims, it's all the victims fault. Of course it's never the captialists fault (roll eyes). Oh and ENVY yep that must be it. ENVY. And you have a book title oh wow that must make it official. And that must be why the native American indians lost everything they had, it was their culture that did them in, oh lets not forget ENVY and most of all for being born here, now what exuse do they have for being born here, none that we can think of huh?

    • Frank Booth | Aug 5, 2010 at 11:51 am |

      Heineken isn't German.

    • That's nice and simple, theoretically and philosophically, but it fails to take into account the limitations on opportunity that exist when the top 1% of the population owns 38% of the wealth, 10% of the population owns 71% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% owns less than 1%. You can tell me the top 10% don't have any influence over the bottom 40%, or don't take measures to keep that power, but the quotes you cite seem designed for that very purpose.

    • Haystack | Aug 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm |

      Really? We're talking about a region full of coal miners, and you're *still* gonna go with the “poor work ethic” argument?

      • Connie Dobbs | Aug 6, 2010 at 9:16 am |

        it's not “full of coal miners” if the unemployment rate is 10.6 percent, and 22 percent live below the poverty line. It's a handful of miners, and a bunch of people who either run businesses to support the miners or are living in squalor. Please visit.

        • Connie Dobbs | Aug 6, 2010 at 9:18 am |

          by “run businesses”, I should have been more specific to say “work to support the mine industry”, which includes service workers making minimum wage. In modern Appalachia, a town is judged by the quality of its walmart.

    • Gemmarama | Aug 6, 2010 at 6:31 am |

      erm… have you ever even been to the UK? are you aware that the scottish stereotype is of a hard-working, thrifty-to-the-point-of-mean farmer? sure we like a drink and our macho men like a fight, but your comments are so unbelieveably ignorant and uneducated, you're just making this shit up mate.

  4. We may have it difficult in this area, but I'll be damned if we aren't some resilient, inventive poor folks! 🙂

  5. Connie Dobbs | Aug 6, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    by “run businesses”, I should have been more specific to say “work to support the mine industry”, which includes service workers making minimum wage. In modern Appalachia, a town is judged by the quality of its walmart.

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