Cleda Turner, director of the Owsley County Outreach, folds clothes at the thrift store in Booneville, Ky., last year A drop in federal food assistance has struck Owsley County, in Kentucky’s Appalachian region, hard. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)
"It’s possible that a coal worker’s moving from Booneville to Pikeville would lower the median income of both towns."
Here's a long excerpt:
There is another Booneville, this one in northern Mississippi, just within the cultural orbit of Memphis and a stone’s throw from the two-room shack in which was born Elvis Presley, the Appalachian Adonis. There’s a lot of Big White Ghetto between them, trailers and rickety homes heated with wood stoves, the post-industrial ruins of old mills and small factories with their hard 1970slines that always make me think of the name of the German musical group Einstürzende Neubauten — “collapsing modern buildings.” (Some things just sound more appropriate in German.) You swerve to miss deer on the country roads, see the rusted hulk of a 1937 Dodge sedan nestled against a house and wonder if somebody was once planning to restore it – or if somebody just left it there on his way to Detroit. You see the clichés: cars up on cinderblocks, to be sure, but houses up on cinderblocks, too. And you get a sense of the enduring isolation of some of these little communities: About 20 miles from Williamsburg, Ky., I become suspicious that I have not selected the easiest route to get where I’m going, and stop and ask a woman what the easiest way to get to Williamsburg is. “You’re a hell of a long way from Virginia,” she answers. I tell her I’m looking for Williamsburg, Kentucky, and she says she’s never heard of it. It’s about the third town over, the nearest settlement of any interest, and it’s where you get on the interstate to go up to Lexington or down to Knoxville. “I went to Hazard once,” she offers. The local economic-development authorities say that the answer to Appalachia’s problems is sending more people to college. Sending them to Nashville might be a start.
Looking for another view? Here's Paul Krugman's take on the article:
My take on Williamson’s report (like my take on Charles Murray’s recent book) is that it basically says that William Julius Wilson was right. Wilson famously argued that the social troubles of urban blacks emerged, not because there was something inherently wrong with their culture, but because job opportunities in inner cities dried up. Sure enough, when the God-fearing (and definitely white) people of Appalachia face a loss of employment opportunity, their region turns into what Williamson calls the Great White Ghetto.
And this in turn says that the problem isn’t that we’re becoming a nation of takers; it’s the fact that we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t offer enough economic opportunity to the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of its citizens.