The East Coast of the United States. Home to bustling cities, once in a lifetime opportunities, and over 118 million people. With such an admirable description, many would think of the East Coast as million dollar mansions and skyscrapers, prominent wealth, and ever growing prosperity.
But what truly lies within the East Coast of the United States? Poverty.
It is very well known that many inhabitants of big cities face impoverished living conditions and lifestyles. Oftentimes, this is due to drug use, job shortages, gentrification, untreated mental illnesses, and many other burdensome reasons.
However, poverty on the East Coast exists much beyond the big cities. The coast is home to one of the oldest and poorest mountain chains on Earth- the Appalachian Mountains.
The Appalachian Mountains were formed more than 480 million years ago, once reaching altitudes like those of the Rockies. For centuries, homesteads have been established within the mountains, creating a long history of people, towns, and experiences. With its beautiful, wooded ridges, people from all over the world have come to see the mountains and all of their glory, often paying copious amounts of money to hike the mountain range.
In spite of its beauty, the areas surrounding the mountains are known to be the most impoverished places in America. This is the region of Appalachia.
There are 420 counties across 13 states that represent the region of Appalachia: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. When reading this list, outsiders might think that most of these states draw in a decent amount of revenue. While that may be true, a small percentage of those profits are pushed in aiding the region of Appalachia.
As of 2022, 25.7 million people occupy the region of Appalachia. Poverty rates in the region range from 6.5% to 41%, with the national average being 14.6%. According to the 2010-2014 Appalachian Regional Commission report, the combined region of Appalachia produced a 19.7% poverty rate compared to the 15.6% national average poverty rate. As shown by statistics, there is a large economic disparity plaguing the region of Appalachia.
There are many reasons for the economic disparity in Appalachia. Some of the leading causes are low-paying industry structures, below average education, low household mobility, and remoteness from big cities.
Appalachia is rich in its natural resources, allowing for jobs such as mining, forestry and farming, and manufacturing. However, these jobs do not always pay a large amount of money. According to a 2015 report done by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the average income is around $38,593 per year.
Lack of education is often associated with the lack of income in the region, as the graduation rate in Appalachia ranges from 58.2% to 94.5%, with the national average falling at 87.3%. This rate is due to the fact that Appalachian inhabitants rely heavily on labor jobs. With this being the case, many residents do not feel the need to continue school, often either dropping out of high school or not pursuing a degree post high school.
With such a low income rate and a lack of education, it is a common assumption that those who reside in Appalachia are uneducated. While that may be true in some areas, it is a common misconception. Appalachia is responsible for a large percentage of energy resources, mined resources, and forestry/farming resources. So, while education is not necessarily the most important aspect of Appalchian life, residents are contributing to America’s economy through physical laboring jobs.
As the need for money and a better future is an ever growing thought in the back of Appalachian residents’ minds, the reward of their hard work comes at a great cost. Mental health in Appalachia is a significant burden for most. Suicide rates in Appalachia are very high, with all five Appalachian subregions having higher suicide rates than the national average. Suicide rates in the region are 14.5 per 100,000 people in the area, which is 17% higher than the national average- 12.4 per 100,000 people.
In a region that is rich in its history and resources, it is truly a shame that Appalachia is often looked over and passed off for negative assumptions about its residents. Groups like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Highlander Research and Education Center work towards the Appalachian outreach in providing educational, financial, and resourceful assistance to residents occupying the area. By providing services and aid, groups are paving the way to a bright future within Appalachian communities.
Though the region still faces many challenges, they are working to make a change and a positive name for themselves. Appalachia does not have to reflect its past, and its residents are beginning to see that.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the Suicide Hotline 800-273-8255.
If you are interested in helping in Appalachian outreach projects, visit https://www.arc.gov/ for more information.
As a nation, we should want to make the United States a better place, full of opportunity and growth. You can do your part by helping those in need around you.