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Wed Oct 15, 2014, 01:37 PM

How the War on Poverty became the War on the Poor: Central Appalachia as a case example

Interesting articles well worth considering.

The SES Indicator | January 2014
How the War on Poverty became the War on the Poor: Central Appalachia as a case example
The progress and the regress.
By James L. Werth, Jr., PhD

The fact that nearly every county in central Appalachia reported poverty rates of 20 percent + for the period of 2007-2011 (compared to a national average of 14.3 percent) and that this region as a whole had a poverty rate of 23.5 percent reveals that many people are still struggling (Pollard & Jacobsen, 2013, Table 7.2 [p. 36] and Figure 7.6 [p. 42]). The high rates of poverty are correlated with other issues, such as educational attainment (over 27 percent of central Appalachians at least 25 years of age had less than a high school diploma and just over 12 percent had a Bachelor’s degree or more education whereas across the U.S. an average of over 85 percent of people had a high school diploma or more and over 28 percent had a bachelor’s degree or more) and employment (only about 60 percent of people 25-64 are in the labor force compared with over 78 percent nationally) (Pollard & Jacobsen, Table 5.1 [p. 22] and Table 6.1 [p. 31], respectively).

Some would argue that this is because of shortcomings of the people themselves, and would point to money that has been sent to the region to help Appalachians (e.g., Payne, 1999). However, the ARC reported that “the region receives 31 percent less federal expenditures per capita than the national average” (ARC, 2011, p. 4). As a result, “Appalachia has been unable to take advantage of programs that could help mitigate long-standing problems due to a lack of human, financial, and technical resources, geographic isolation, disproportionate social and economic distress, low household incomes, and a declining tax base” (ARC, 2011, p. 4).

Implications of the data

Individuals certainly bear some responsibility for their conditions and station in life. However, there also is no doubt that large systems can oppress and suppress people at an individual and collective level. As Burriss discusses in the companion piece, residents of central Appalachia have been living in a mono-economic system that purposefully provides little incentive for people to aspire to anything other than what previous generations experienced. Unfortunately, it is likely that things are going to get worse before they get better in this region because the coal industry in Appalachia is experiencing a downturn as a result of competition with natural gas, decreased exporting, and decreased domestic need. Thus, without some significant interventions, both from the residents themselves and from those given the responsibility to assist the people, the economic indicators reviewed above are likely to become bleaker.

Psychologists who are concerned about social justice and the plight of people who are living in poverty must be proactive in using their education and resulting influence and power we have to respond to the needs of people who have been disempowered and disenfranchised for so long that they feel hopeless and resigned to their plight. Burriss and I have focused on Appalachia in these articles but there certainly are communities in other parts of the country who are in need of assistance and we urge all civic-minded psychologists and graduate students to become involved through community-based participatory research, grant-writing, public education and policy development.... Read more at the link posted above.

Companion piece at http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2014/01/consequences.aspx
The SES Indicator | January 2014
Appalachian cultural consequences from the War on Poverty
The inconvenient truth about the War on Poverty.
By Theresa L. Burris, PhD

...For well over a century now, central Appalachia has been ruled by absentee landowners only interested in making the highest profit available from natural resource extraction, primarily coal. From the beginning of its presence in the mountains, the coal industry intentionally created single-industry economies to exert absolute control over the people, the politicians, the land and the wealth that still flows out of the mountains. Many critics continue to condemn politicians for their failure to implement adequate coal severance taxes, which could have better insulated coal communities from boom and bust cycles. As a result of these mono-economies, most central Appalachians have been dependent upon and at the mercy of that one industry, an industry that has a legacy of exploiting both land and people.

In the interest of brevity, I refer readers to Burns (2007), Loeb (2007) and Shapiro (2010) for examples of environmental degradation caused by mountaintop removal (MTR) coalmining. For physical and mental health impacts of MTR, see, respectively, Hendryx and Cordial (2012). Two recent reports (2012 and 2013) by the Center for Public Integrity illustrate yet another case of the exploitation of the people. The first report documents the rise in black lung disease among both novice and seasoned miners alike, while the second exposes the unethical practices of a West Virginia law firm and doctors at Johns Hopkins to make it even more difficult for miners to obtain black lung benefits. One miner had to die and an autopsy had to be performed before his widow received his benefits. Because of this exposure, Johns Hopkins has suspended its black lung program. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many Appalachians have a “lack of trust in others,” to use Payne’s words.

Appalachians’ drug abuse and addiction also have made national headlines, with the relatively newly coined term “pillbillies” gaining traction in popular culture. Regardless of investigative journalism revealing Purdue Pharma’s intentional failure to educate doctors on the highly addictive nature of OxyContin, many still believe Appalachians’ innate immorality and “self-destructiveness” are the causes of their addiction. Tragically, Purdue Pharma’s admission of guilt and consequent payment of more than $600 million in fines has not stopped some doctors in Appalachia from continuing to overprescribe the drug for their own financial gain. Even some lawmakers in the region have succumbed to powerful pharmaceutical lobbying as they refuse to implement laws and policies to restrict cold medications to prescription-only instead of over-the-counter. Such a move would dramatically reduce the ease with which methamphetamine is made using the “bake and shake” method and is supported unilaterally among healthcare providers and law enforcement agencies in the region.

Such systemic problems do need to be addressed and rectified as many central Appalachians struggle with poverty, illness, depression and addiction. It’s important to note that in an area where blue collar jobs dominate among single-industry economies, individuals do get seriously injured and are legitimately prescribed pain medication. And given the depressed economy of the region (see ARC distressed counties map), it should come as no surprise to find depressed people self-medicating. However, well-intentioned scholars, researchers and others wishing to make a positive difference in central Appalachia must avoid a “missionary mentality,” namely that superiority position of “we know what’s best for you and how to fix you and your region.” As Werth notes in his article, participatory action research and community-based research are some of the more sensitive and respectful approaches. In fact, scholars would do well to familiarize themselves with the philosophies of such visionaries as Brazilian Paulo Freire and Appalachian Myles Horton (see Highlander Research & Education Center).... MORE at link provided above.

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