When people think of the War on Poverty, they often think of President Lyndon Johnson sitting on the front porch of a family’s home in Martin County, Kentucky in 1964. The news media at that time called the home a “cabin,” but Tom Fletcher’s home wasn’t a cabin. It was a house similar to most houses in eastern Kentucky in the 1960s, and in fact, when NPR visited the Fletchers’ home in 2014, they found that the house really hadn’t changed that much.
The challenges we face in our region are old ones, and they are difficult to overcome due to the fact that the issues persist from one generation to the next. This is not because the people of eastern Kentucky are not trying to overcome these challenges; they are, but generational poverty is complex, with many different factors and individual issues to address, and since it has taken decades to grow in families, it can often take that long or longer to change it.
• 38 of Kentucky’s 40 Persistent Poverty Counties are Appalachian (in eastern Kentucky).
• 42 of Kentucky’s 51 Persistent Child Poverty Counties are Appalachian (in eastern Kentucky).
• 37 of the 53 Kentucky Appalachian counties are distressed as per the Appalachian Regional Commission's (ARC) definition. (Distressed counties are the most economically depressed counties. They rank in the worst 10 percent of the nation’s counties.) There are only 87 distressed counties in all of ARC’s area in which almost half of the distressed Appalachian counties in the nation are located in Kentucky.
• The poverty rate for Appalachian Kentucky counties is 25.8% compared to 18.9% for Kentucky as a whole and 15.5% for the United States. This means 293,236 people live in poverty in Appalachian Kentucky. For perspective, this is 92% of the population of Lexington, Kentucky (Kentucky’s second largest city by population).
• If something dreadful happened to the Louisville economy and Jefferson County’s poverty rate suddenly increased from its current rate of 15.4% to 25.8% (that of Appalachian Kentucky), there would be over 79,500 additional people living in poverty in Jefferson County.
• In our service area, about 1 in 6 households live on less than $10,000 dollars annually.
• In our service area, 42% of households earn less than $25,000 annually.
• The median income of our service area is approximately $45,700 compared to the median income of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th congressional district of approximately $79,400.
• This means for every dollar a middle-income family in central Kentucky earns, a middle-income family in Appalachia earns 58 cents.
• The census data is generally not an effective way to measure housing quality (the right questions have not been asked), but you can use house values as a proxy measure. In our service area, 8,850 or nearly 44% of homeowner-occupied units are valued at less than $50,000.
• Kentucky coal production decreased in 2016 by 29.9 percent from 2015, a level of production not seen since 1922. Eastern Kentucky coal production decreased in 2016 by 39 percent from 2015. Production slowed at both underground and surface mines. Eastern Kentucky production has declined by 87 percent since peak production in 1990. Over the last 30 years, eastern Kentucky has lost 30,000 coal jobs. This has impacted about 1 in 8 workers and 1 in 9 households.