N.Y. Times, using lifespan, disability, obesity and 3 other factors, says 6 E. Ky. counties among 10 worst U.S. places to live

Six adjoining counties in the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field rank among the nation’s 10 hardest counties to live in, as defined by six factors compiled by The New York Times to measure quality and longevity of life: education, income, unemployment rate,
disability rate, obesity rate and life expectancy.

“Clay County, in dead last, might as well be in a different country,” Annie Lowrey writes. “The
median household income there is barely above the poverty line, at
$22,296, and is just over half the nationwide median. Only 7.4 percent
of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The unemployment
rate is 12.7 percent. The disability rate is nearly as high, at 11.7
percent. (Nationwide, that figure is 1.3 percent.) Life expectancy is
six years shorter than average. Perhaps related, nearly half of Clay
County is obese.”

Also on the list from Kentucky are Breathitt, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin counties. The article did not name the other four worst counties. Lowrey continues, “It’s coal country, but perhaps in name only. In the first quarter of
this year, just 54 people were employed in coal mining in Clay County, a
precipitous drop from its coal-production peak in 1980. That year,
about 2.5 million tons of coal were taken out of the ground in Clay;
this year, the county has produced a fraction of that — just over 38,000
tons.”

“The public debate about the haves and the have-nots tends to focus on
the 1 percent, especially on the astonishing, breakaway wealth in cities
like New York, San Francisco and Washington and the great disparities
contained therein,” Lowrey writes. “But what has happened in the smudge of the country
between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is
in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities. In
some places, decades of growth have failed to raise incomes, and of
late, poverty has become more concentrated not in urban areas but in
rural ones.”

James P. Ziliak, the director of the Center for Poverty
Research at the University of Kentucky, told Lowrey, “One of the challenges that faces Eastern Kentucky is the remoteness of
the area. It’s difficult to get to a lot
of places. The communities are small, and they’re spread apart, so you
lose that synergy that you want to spark development a lot of times… My
view is that firms will never locate into a community with an unskilled
labor force, unless the only labor they need is unskilled. And there has
been a historic lack of investment in human capital in these areas.” (Read more)

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