Appalachian Community

Appalachian Community Notes: 5 Stories You Should Read This Week

Brad King — Newsletter Sign-up

Appalachian Community: Diversity

People too often think of the Appalachian Community as a monolith. Trump country. The white working class. But there’s more to the Appalachian story: The Invention of the “White Working Class” and Elizabeth Catte: Resisting Myths of Whiteness in Appalachia.

The region is home to a deep, powerful liberalism there as well. People fight hard to help those who need help the most: She ‘fought like hell’ to change health care in Appalachia. At 90, she’s still fighting.

And the experiences that people have aren’t always what you think: watch “Women of These Hills – 3 Cultures of Appalachia.”

Education + Opportunity

People vilify rural ad Appalachia communities for the “lack of education,” but few want to roll up their sleeves and do anything about it. Why? It’s hard. And like so much of the region, you find out that you are on your own: Can putting the least-experienced teachers in the highest-risk schools ever result in success?

This education crisis extends beyond traditional subject matter and teacher shortages. We also need to think about mental health in Appalachian communities, many of which lack critical medical resources: Rural schools find an online resource to fill gaps in mental health services for students.

For the answer on higher education, we should look to West Virginia, which is on the way toward making community college free: Senate Passes Bill That Would Make Community College Programs Free. And — as you read about that plan — you find a deep commitment to return vocational education with those two-year degrees, moving away from treating those colleges as feeder schools to four-year universities.

Most of all, we must remember that as we struggle with these important issues, we must find a way to work together to make sure all the boats are rising: Tucked Into the Tax Bill, a Plan to Help Distressed America.

Working Class Jobs

A personal tidbit: In Manchester, KY (Central Appalachia), I was told the federal jail was the biggest employer in the area. When jails are the primary economic driver in the area, you don’t have a sustainable — or humane — economy: Ignoring rural areas won’t solve America’s mass incarceration problem.

The issue of declining job opportunities isn’t just an Appalachian issue — even as it hits that region hardest. Where you live matters in terms of economic mobility: In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters. But we must also understand that location is just one measure. Race is another: African Americans in Appalachia fight to be seen as a part of coal country.

What we can all see is that the country is facing a serious economic issue. The digital economy and advances in technology have cut job growth in working-, middle-, and upper-class jobs: Beneath the U.S. job numbers: Tech’s influence on the workforce continues to hollow out the labor market.

With the coming digital transformation, we must remember that the digital divide is real — and will have a serious economic impact: In rural America, building the Internet for everyone has stalled.

Opioid Crisis

Opioid makers have flooded Appalachian and rural communities with too many pills: A town of 3,200 was flooded with nearly 21 million pain pills as the opioid crisis worsened, lawmakers say.

However, we’ve reached a critical point. Cities and states are now taking drastic action to curb this epidemic: States curb pain pill prescribing to try to prevent opioid addiction:

We can’t just treat the epidemic. We need to treat the hopelessness around it: Keys to fighting opioids in Appalachia: reducing stigma, educating the public and physicians, getting success stories in news media.

And we must also think about health insurance, Medicaid, and the access that people do — and don’t — have: An ER visit, a $12,000 bill — and a health insurer that wouldn’t pay.

Infrastructure Week

President Trump is set to announce a massive reduction and defunding of several transit projects, including Amtrak, during the State of the Union, while also asking private industries and states to pick up an $800 billion tab on his proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Why is that a big deal? Because since 1965, government commission after commission — including the Appalachian Regional Commission — have placed transportation at the center of economic revitalization.

Investment and development of green and renewable energy are important for Appalachia. Its natural resources are plentiful + will serve as the backbone of a new economy through the entire region: Trump’s failing war on green power.

On a more practical level, counties are starting to face a serious water crisis:

In other words: Infrastructure in the Trump Congress: We Must Build for the Future, Not the Past.

But these days, Appalachians also need to think about the information superhighway as well. A little more than one in five rural and Appalachian households don’t have reliable, high-speed Internet. That’s a problem. Add the federal government’s decision to end NetNeutrality, and the digital divide may widen because companies have no financial incentive to build networks in sparsely populated, rural areas.

But there’s another reason that we must think of infrastructure as the digital divide: Pockets of Rural America at Risk of Being Undercounted in Census.

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