The Appalachian Mountains are home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the United States. Yet, they also hold a truth that is difficult to comprehend. There, twenty-six million people are living in poverty within their boundaries. With roots tracing back to the late 18th century through exploitative practices of wealthy companies during the Coal Boom, poverty in Appalachia has been a problem for the residents for centuries. Across eleven states – Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia – individuals and families face economic hardship daily.
Despite this long history of inequality and deprivation in Appalachia, hope exists for a brighter future. A comprehensive approach centered on increasing economic opportunities and access to essential services like housing and healthcare can bridge the gap between poverty and prosperity in this region.
Causes of Poverty in Appalachia
Poverty has been an ongoing issue in the Appalachian region. This is primarily due to its legacy of limited economic opportunities and structural inequalities. Appalachia is a mountainous area with rugged terrain. This makes it hard for locals to access essential services like healthcare and education. In addition, it has traditionally lacked the industries needed to generate strong job growth or income levels. It relies instead on low-wage jobs from agriculture and extractive industries such as coal mining. This combination of factors has resulted in persistent poverty for many families in the region.
Challenges of Development in the Region
One of the reasons why poverty is so entrenched in Appalachia is because of a lack of development. The median household income across Appalachia tends to be significantly lower than in other parts of the nation. Between 2016-2022, The Appalachian Regional Commission said that roughly 14.7% of Appalachian residents lived below the poverty level. This means their income was below $26,246 for a family of two adults and two children. However, this percentage was shown to increase the more rural the area became, up to 20% or more. The region’s economy has not kept pace with other parts of the country. In addition, investments from outside entities has remained low. This lack of capital means that new businesses have difficulty starting up. In addition, existing businesses cannot expand or create more jobs. Without jobs, incomes remain low, and individuals have difficulty providing for their families.
Deficiencies in Health Care
The dire situation of poverty in Appalachia is compounded by low levels of access to quality healthcare. Access to health care is not only limited by its availability but also the lack of insurance or finances to properly cover it. This lack of health care has caused a multitude of problems. These problems range from increased rates of preventable illness and chronic disease to higher mortality rates. One study by The Appalachian Regional Commission found that Appalachia has higher mortality rates than the rest of the nation in seven of the nation’s leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, COPD, injury, stroke, diabetes, and suicide. The resulting poor overall health further deepens the cycle of poverty in Appalachia as individuals are unable to access the resources they need to break free and move toward a more prosperous future.
Lack of Funding for Education
Many students living in rural parts of Appalachia face significant educational barriers due. This is largely due to a lack of adequate funding and access to the internet. Both of these resources are essential components to proper schooling. Schools located in these areas are often underfunded, leaving students with limited resources and opportunities for success. Furthermore, the digital divide is a pressing issue that has put many of these students at an even greater disadvantage.
Without access to online classes or self-guided learning tools, they miss out on essential foundational knowledge that could otherwise be gained from virtual instruction. In fact, only 15.6% of adults in Appalachia earn a bachelor’s degree compared to the national average of 29%. This limited access to higher education makes it harder for students from this population group to secure well-paid jobs, leading them into generational cycles of poverty where they struggle to provide themselves or their families with a better standard of living than what was experienced by previous generations.
Exploring Solutions for Poverty in Appalachia
But there is hope. There are many things that we can do to provide long-term help and aid to address poverty in Appalachia. One way to start is to provide direct assistance to the people living in the region, such as food aid and housing support programs. These initiatives could provide immediate relief from some of the most pressing needs while increasing access to essential services like healthcare and education.
Also, targeted educational initiatives can make a big difference by providing Appalachian students with access to quality education options and developing specialized curriculums that prepare them for career paths relevant to their region.
Bridging the Poverty Gap
The Appalachian region of the United States faces a huge challenge regarding poverty and its associated issues. Through the implementation of targeted initiatives, there are opportunities to close this gap and help struggling families meet their basic needs. By developing economic development initiatives, investing in infrastructure and education, supporting anti-poverty measures, and creating more affordable housing options, we can work towards a brighter future for Appalachia.
Americans Helping Americans is actively working to bridge the poverty gap in Appalachia through donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. These donations provide vital resources that support people in need. It truly allows them to build a better future for themselves and their families. We urge all individuals to consider donating to Americans Helping Americans. Help lead the way toward creating positive changes in Appalachia.