“America’s Poorest White Town”

That’s what the Guardian calls Beattyville, Kentucky, in an in-depth study of the poorest region in the USA.  It’s a long and heart-wrenching article, so much so that it’s difficult to find an excerpt that will adequately convey its pathos.  Here are a couple of random selections.

Beattyville sits at the northern tip of a belt of the most enduring rural poverty in America. The belt runs from eastern Kentucky through the Mississippi delta to the Texas border with Mexico, taking in two of the other towns – one overwhelmingly African American and the other exclusively Latino – at the bottom of the low income scale. The town at the very bottom of that census list is an outlier far to the west on an Indian reservation in Arizona.

The communities share common struggles in grappling with blighted histories and uncertain futures. People in Beattyville are not alone in wondering if their kind of rural town even has a future. To the young, such places can sometimes feel like traps in an age when social mobility in the US is diminishing and they face greater obstacles to a good education than other Americans.

At the same time, each of the towns is distinguished by problems not common to the rest. In Beattyville it is the drug epidemic, which has not only destroyed lives but has come to redefine a town whose fleeting embrace of prosperity a generation ago is still visible in some of its grander official buildings and homes near the heart of the town. Now they seem to accentuate the decline of a main street littered with ghost shops that haven’t seen business in years.

. . .

Ask where people get the money for drugs and just about everyone blames it on welfare in general and the trade in what is known locally as “pop” – soft drinks – in particular.

Close to 57% of Beattyville residents claim food stamps. They are paid by electronic transfer on the first of the month. That same day, cases of Pepsi and Coca-Cola are marked down sharply in supermarkets and disappear off the shelves, often paid for with food stamps.

They are then sold on to smaller stores at a lower price than they would pay a distributor, in effect turning several hundred dollars of food stamps into cash at about 50 cents on the dollar.

The “pop” scam has become shorthand in Beattyville among those who regard welfare as almost as big a blight as the drugs themselves.

There’s much more at the link.  I think it’s worth reading, if only to remind ourselves that we haven’t addressed some very pressing issues inside America – never mind those outside.



  1. They're after Appalachia again, I see. Kevin Williamson did a piece on it last year called "The White Ghetto." This sort of thing comes around every so often, a year or three between articles.

    I was born and raised in a place not far different. Deepest Appalachia always seems to have been a generation behind the times, at least. I'm thirty-five, and I grew up with washboards and clotheslines, outhouses and wood cook stoves, home-made clothes and chickens in the yard. There's no pride or shame in those facts, they just are.

    Is it any worse in the big city slums? Maybe. Different, definitely. Maybe folks can get out easier, closer to jobs that pay more than a pittance. Maybe there's different pressures keeping folks in, there.

    I know of some back home that drive two hours one way to get to work, just to have a job that pays more than break-even. Folks *do* get out. I did. No, it's not easy- cost wise, and culture-wise. The things you learn early in life tend to stick. Some won't ever leave, because that's the only life they know. Or don't think they can "make it" anywhere else. Others find a way to get free.

    Folks in places like that need an *opportunity,* not a hand-out. Jobs, not welfare. Appalachians are, by and large, a proud people. Make it attractive for businesses, manufacturing and whatnot, to settle there, and things will improve. That'll take political change beyond the scope of little town mayors and city councilmen. It's something to hope for, at least.

    By the way, congrats on the move, sir. Texas seems a fine place to live. Hope all goes well for you and yours.

  2. Dan Lane, I disagree on one point; there is immense pride in having grown up in such fashion. The pride comes later when one realizes that that hard scrabble upbringing did well to prepare one for life. It aint just Appalachia. I grew up in Hawaii with a bit of time in rural North Carolina (dad was career Marine). In both places we lived in dirt and had to make do. What you say of your upbringing is exactly of mine save the outhouse.

    People who get shat upon and know what that is like are far the better for it although one not think so at the time. As implied in the blog, anyone with enough dough for drugs aint doing so bad that it couldn't be worse. This points to a lack of morals and that is decidedly the product of government intervention (in the form of welfare handouts)

    I remain uncertain of your comment about "political change" so I withhold my comment except to say that to look to govt as provider is a dead end. Things improve when the people, as individuals, rise up to embrace the opportunity in whichever their circumstance. God bless.

  3. More to the point, the hallmark of govt is blight. Whether it is the individual or even an entire town, it is the calling card of govt. They come in at the behest of statisticians, unheralded of the town folk. They decide who needs this or that. They set themselves as the provider. Is it any wonder that the people have abandoned initiative? The well not run dry even as the folks lie down in their beds, sloth like, without aim or purpose. In fact, nothing is required of them.

    Blight, hrrumph. Blight is a word created in far away places so to appease them that good is being done.

    Like I said, I grew up in Hawaii dirt poor. Eating lobster and crab and fish most every night I didn't know we were so blighted. I've some good friends from eastern TN, southern PA, western NC who also grew up in the sticks. They didn't know they were so poor until the G man told them so.

  4. Ah MORE anti-white anti -hillbilly, Ant-rural south, propaganda. Having grown up on the Jackson/Owsley county Ky. border I consider this more Christian Appalachian Project fund raising BULL SH*T. Yes drugs ARE a problem in rural Kentucky. But its no better in Lexington Ky. Louisville Ky. L.A. or NY.Ny. 54% of AMERICA is on food stamps, and medicare ,so its not that. You know what "they" hate about us so much? We are the last "poor" place in the US where a stable white population still holds large tracts of land, guns, and the EVIL idea that they are a free people.—Ray

  5. I agree with the priority – we need to focus on helping our own population get up to speed, then the rest of the world.

    I can't wait for the next election – we need a Chief Executive who cares more for the welfare of Americans more than the rest of the world. To me, Obama appears to be running for a future U.N. job, using our government as a stepping stone.

  6. Need I point out that baring those unfortunates addled by drugs or mental issues the poorest among us in America live lives that 90% of the rest of the world can only dream of.
    Drive the rural backroads of most of the US. You'll see trailer after trailer with a shiny new truck parked in front and a satellite dish in the yard. And like as not that dish drives a rather large flat screen TV.
    Hit the local grocery store and stand behind someone cashing out with food stamps while chatting with someone on a brand new iPhone.
    Most of the rest of the world is desperate to come here, and for good reason.

  7. While some people are truly in dire straights, and charity is needed to keep some folks alive (let alone off the street), impersonal government welfare corrupts, demeans, degrades, and gradually destroys everything and everyone it touches. It can't to tossed entirely all at once, but it needs a MASSIVE overhaul to remove its perverse incentives, and gradually be phased out.

  8. My forefathers booked out of the European equivalent of Appalachia to better themselves.

    Folks who are unwilling to migrate to better themselves are pathetic and deserve the shit-world they can't even bother to walk away from.

    No pity for stupid here, Guardian sob story or not.

    A man is responsible for himself and it is pathetic to blame anyone else.

    Now if I could get a bunch on these folk cleaned up and off of dope, and willing to move to where the world has a place for them I'd hire them in a heartbeat.

    But I can't feel sorry for self selecting to live in a hell of their own making.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *