Social and economic stratification in Appalachia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Areas included within the Appalachian Regional Commission's charter.

The Appalachian region of the Eastern United States is home to over 25 million people and covers parts of mostly mountainous areas of 13 states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, and the entire state of West Virginia.[1] The near-isolation of the area's rugged topography is home to communities with a distinct culture, who in many cases are put at a disadvantage because of the transportation and infrastructure problems that have developed.[1]

Appalachia is often divided into three regions—southern (portions of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee), central (portions of Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southern and southeastern Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee), and northern (parts of New York, Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, Maryland, and northern and northeastern Ohio) Appalachia.[1] Though all areas of Appalachia share problems of rural poverty, inadequate jobs, services, transportation, education, and infrastructure, some elements (particularly those relating to industry and natural resource extraction) are unique to each sub-region. For example, Appalachians in the central sub-region experience the deepest poverty, partially due to the area's isolation from urban growth centers.[2]

Appalachia is particularly interesting in the context of social and economic divisions within and between the region's socioeconomic communities. In addition, outsiders' often incorrect and over-generalized external perspectives, and their relationship to culture and folklore of this near-isolated area, are important to the region's future development.[1]

Poverty, politics, and uneven economic development[edit]

Though industry and business existed in Appalachia before the 20th century, the major modern industries of agriculture, large-scale coal mining, timber, and other outside corporate entries did not truly take root until this time. Many Appalachians sold their rights to land and minerals to such corporations, to the extent that 99 percent of the residents control less than half of the land. Thus, though the area has a wealth of natural resources, natives are often poor.[1] Since at least the 1960s, Appalachia has a higher poverty rate and a higher percentage of working poor than the rest of the nation. Wages, employment rates, and education also lag. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was created in 1965 to address some of the region's problems, and though there have been improvements, serious issues still exist. Communities that are not considered "growth centers" are bypassed for investment and fall further behind. In 1999, roughly a quarter of the counties in the region qualified as "distressed," the ARC's worst status ranking. Fifty-seven percent of adults in central Appalachia did not graduate high school (as opposed to less than 20 percent in the general U.S.[3]), roughly 20 percent of homes have no telephone, and the population is declining.[4]

According to the statistics conducted by ARC, one out of every three Appalachians suffered from poverty; their average income was 23 percent lower than the average level of American per capita income; and due to the poor infrastructure, health care, high unemployment rate and other tough living conditions, two million or more Appalachians left their homes during the 1950s.[5] Poverty in Appalachian had not been given attention until the 1960s. In the year 1960, the Region's government was trying to solve the poverty problem with a will. After one year, the newly elected President John F. Kennedy was touched by the poverty he saw there and decided to improve the living standard of Appalachians. In 1963, President Kennedy set up President's Appalachian Regional Committee, aimed to formulate a program to improve the Appalachian economy. The program was outlined in 1964. One year later, his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson submitted PARC's reports to the Congress and the program was passed in 1965.[5]

Infrastructure as an agent of poverty[edit]

One of the factors at the root of Appalachian economic struggles is the poor infrastructure. Though the region is crisscrossed by many U.S. and interstate highways, those routes primarily serve cross-country traffic rather than local traffic. Towns closer to the major highways and nearer to the many larger cities fringing the region (Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Columbus, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., etc.) are disproportionately better-off than rural regions in the mountainous interior.

Transportation may be the reason which most restricts the development of the economy. So after the Appalachian Regional Commission was established, road construction has become the first concern of regional development. In the following years, the Commission has spent plenty of capital on road construction.[6]

Instead of being tied to the land, jobs in the towns tend to emphasize industry and services—important signs of a more diversified economy. However, aside from the major urban centers along its perimeter, the entire Appalachian region still suffers from population decline and the loss of younger residents to the cities.

Another factor affecting development has been sheer inequality in power between the classes. Historically, elites interested in satisfying personal goals have controlled Appalachian politics to the expense of the region's poorer residents.[1] Seeing no personal benefit to establishing infrastructure, they generally eschewed developments that would have been difficult and expensive to establish in the mountainous areas.[1] Instead, they allowed the region to rely on industry—using barges to send natural resources to market, requiring that workers have only minimal education, etc.--and created no infrastructure for business.[7]

There is a lot of evidence to show that economic status generally has a positive effect on education. This positive link suggests that people in Appalachia are less educated than in rest areas of the nation. "Labor economists estimated that the inflation-adjusted rate of return to an additional year of schooling is about 10 percent on average".[8] (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) This means, each additional school year will contribute a 10 percent average gain in earnings. "At the same time, this 10 percent average return masks important variation in returns across individuals with different levels of schooling".[8] (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) High school graduates often earn more than those with GED recipients. During past decades, the Appalachian population are better educated than many years ago, but it still lags behind the United States' average level.[8]

From Burris's research, the central lands of Appalachia have been dominated by landowners who only show interest in the profits of mountaintop coal mining, undermining the importance of those who live in the areas and the effect their business has on their lives. It is the cyclical way of life where those who profit from the detrimental effects are the ones who do not have to endure those effects. This economy has caused a region-wide depression on the people as well as other afflictions such as illness and addiction. The goal is to eliminate the depression and need people feel to abuse pain medications. As systems work together to aim attention of younger generations at education instead of drugs. "For well over a century now, central Appalachia has been ruled by absentee landowners only interested in making the highest profit available from natural resource extraction, primarily coal. From the beginning of its presence in the mountains, the coal industry intentionally created single-industry economies to exert absolute control over the people, the politicians, the land and the wealth that still flows out of the mountains".[9] (American Psychological Association)

Now, with roughly 100,000 jobs left for miners, Appalachianites are unable to access jobs or the resources and opportunities necessary to lift themselves out of poverty.[10] Some academics contend that the situation of Appalachianites amounts to one similar to that in third world countries: Residents live on land that cannot be traded outside of trusted circles or used as collateral because, due to the history of unincorporated businesses with unidentified liabilities, there are not adequate records of ownership rights.[11] This "dead" capital is a factor that contributes to the historical poverty of the region, limiting Appalachianites' abilities to use their investments in home and other land-related capital.[11]

The United States Congress finds that the reason why Appalachian abundance in natural resources lags behind in economic development is that people in this area are not share equally of nation's economic wealth.[5] (ARC)

Political inequalities[edit]

The elite class instilled strong systems of inequality into Appalachian politics and economy. For instance, the powerful have a history of encouraging racial divisions in order to divide workers and pit them against each other, spurring competition and serving to lower workers' wages.[12] Family history and economic status are also bases of discrimination: One resident notes of employers, "If you have a rich name, they'll take you--otherwise you can't get no work."[12]

Since the 19th century, coal operators and plantation bosses have discouraged education and civic action, allowing workers to become indebted to plantation stores, live in company housing, and generally make themselves vulnerable to the interests of their powerful employers.[12] Community members who experienced a justifiable fear of punishment for speaking out against the corruption of the status quo developed a habit of compliance rather than democratic institutions for social change. Fearful of punishment, middle class residents allied themselves with the elites rather than challenging the system that colored their everyday lives. Burdened by the choice between exile and exploitation, the actual and potential middle class left the region, widening the gap between the poor and those in power.[12] Observers often perceive a fatalistic attitude on the part of the Appalachian people;[13] many suggest that this is due to the history of political corruption and disenfranchisement, which led to weak civic cultures and a sense of powerlessness. Says a volunteer in the area, "the people usually regard politicians as crooks who won't do anything."[14]

In the remote mountain districts, violent feuds often happen. Appalachians use assassination and guns as weapons, against each other for several years.[15] The major participants are always the elite class and people who are fighting for their political rights.[16]

Educational disadvantages[edit]

In 2000, 80.49 percent of all adults in the United States were high school graduates, as opposed to 76.89 in Appalachia.[17] Almost 30 percent of Appalachian adults are considered functionally illiterate.[17] Education differences between men and women are greater in Appalachia than the rest of the nation, tying into a greater trend of gender inequalities.[17]

Education in Appalachia has historically lagged behind average literacy levels of United States.[18] At first, education in this region was largely nurtured through religious institutions. Children who found time away from family work were often taught to read about the Bible and Christian morality. Then, after the civil war, some districts established primary schools and high schools. People began to access standard education during this period, and higher education in large communities was expanded at that time.[18] Lately, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, education in rural areas has been advanced; some settlement schools and sponsored schools were established by organizations.[19] In the 20th century, the national policy has begun affecting education in Appalachia. Those schools were trying to meet the demands which federal and state settled. Some public schools were facing the problem of gathering funds because of government's No Child Left Behind policy.[18] (DeYoung 1517–1521)

Since Appalachia is a place with abundant resources such as coal, mineral, land and forest, the main jobs here are lumbering, mining and farming. None of these jobs need a high education, and employers don't decide the jobs based on their education level. A diploma has not been a priority in job finding. Many children of school age dropped school to help their family work.[20] Women in Appalachia have less opportunity in access of jobs. Many kinds of jobs in this area require a strong body, so that men are preferred than women by employers when they are seeking jobs.[20]

The National Career Development Association has organized a program hoping to increase the education in the Appalachia region, which has been deprived of what other parts of the nation take for granted. The region is primarily utilized for mining, coal, and its other natural resources and farmland. Families that live in these parts have become accustomed to a certain way of life whether it involve school or working. Many kids are not given the opportunity to be successful, only to remain in the family business surrounding one of the many natural resources from their land. The New Opportunity School for Women, NOSW, has begun offering 14 women a 3-week course in Berea, Kentucky, on employment opportunities, skills, basic knowledge that they may not have received. The NOSW also offers a residential housing opportunity to those with low-income after their participation in the course and thereafter. This brings hope to Appalachian women, although it only allows 14 participants, it is a start and that number can only grow with growth within the Appalachian region.[21]

"Women from the Appalachian region of Kentucky and surrounding south central Appalachian states share common challenges resulting from low educational attainment, limited employment skills, few strong role models and low self-esteem. The presence of these challenges are directly linked to high incidences of early marriage, teen pregnancies, divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse and high school dropout rates".[21] (National Career Development Association.)

This program provides interview, job search, computer and other basic skills that are useful in careers for those less skilled. Women can participate freely, no extra money is required.[21] Participants are provided with classes from Monday to Friday, 8 am to 12 pm and afternoon is internship time. These classes are mainly about: job search, interview skill, math, women's health, computer skills, leadership development, and self-protection.[21] (National Career Development Association) Internships not only include working in a real work site, but also include a training of choosing interview clothes and make-ups. The organizer will also hold some events during the weekends except for additional classes. For instance, the American Association of University Women and the Berea Younger Women's Club are available for participants to choose. They can also go for a field trip to some places. All these efforts are conducted to help women build confidence in job finding. As a vulnerable group of people, these rich experiences can help them become an active part in their living communities. After graduating from NOSW, professional agencies will provides each of them counseling services about education. This program has achieved active outcomes. According to a recent survey, after attending this program, 80 percent of those women participants have incomes for less than 10,000 dollars per year with their half high school degree. Among them, 79 percent of graduates are employed, 55 percent of graduates got an associate degree (two-year), a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree, and 35 percent of graduates got a Certification Program degree.[21] (National Career Development Association)

Gender inequalities in Appalachia[edit]

Women have traditionally been reedited to the domestic sphere, often lack access to resources and employment opportunities, are disproportionately represented in peripheral labor markets, and have lower wages and higher vulnerability to job loss.[3] Throughout the region, women typically earn 64 percent of men's wages. However, when adjusted for the fact that women take less risky jobs, that require less qualifications, they make roughly the same amount.[22] Women are also often the hardest-hit by poverty—for example, 70 percent of female-headed households with children under the age of six are in distressed counties, a figure substantially higher than the national average.[4]

Where there is oppression, there is opposition. There are a lot of fearless and outstanding women in Appalachia who stood out to fight for their rights. Women in the Appalachia have long earned their reputation for being strong as well as struggling. Among the many men within the region, women have participated in the fields, mines, and labor movements. Many women have given their all and then some for their families and to stand up for what they believe in. Women have also made waves through literature, art, and keeping their stories and family history alive within their culture.

"Women have played a major role in the labor and activist movements in the coal-bearing regions of Appalachia.", "Other crucial roles for women have involved education, literature, healthcare and art, and the promotion of minorities in our region".[23] (Appalachian Voices).

There are many achievements conducted by outstanding women leadership. Those women devoted their lifelong efforts in improving their social status and in fighting against poverty in their communities and their living regions. A woman named Kathy Selvage was a citizen lobbyist for years and worked in the fight against a proposal for a Wise County coal-fired plant. She says that Appalachian women are people of action. Lorelei Scarbro helped establish a community center in Whitesville, W.V. to encourage outside activity besides the home and workplace. This reunites them with togetherness and a place to convene about ideas and local build-up. Vivian Stockman is the face of the stand against mountaintop removal and has worked endlessly to spread the word through photos of the detrimental effects it has on the land that people call home. These women, among countless others have done everything they can to end the poverty and depression that has plagued their region for so long.

"A coal miner's daughter from Wise County, Va., Selvage has always had a great respect for miners, but when a coal company began blasting off mountaintops in her community, Selvage began working to bring national exposure to mountaintop removal coal mining".[24] (Appalachian Voices). Rural Appalachian has found projects to help women save for their life especially life after retirement. It is kind of program to help females who have problems in raising their children and retirement save money. Some women have saved surprisingly a little for their retirement and they are facing the risk of running out of their money. Appalachian Savings Project was established to alleviate this risk by recreating saving plans for those self-employed women workers who do not have those plans provided by companies. This program is aiming to help the female workers who have children to care about. Anita Wallace is a mother who operates a family day care in Athens County, Ohio. She is 40 years old while her husband is 47 years old and they have three of their own children to raise. As Wallace is self-employed, she has not provided with company retirement plans, for example, company 401(k). She often complaints about that it is expensive to raise children. Since she is not employed by another company, to have retirement funds is a difficult thing for her. Appalachian Saving Project made her an offer that "if she saved 600 dollars in United States saving bonds in a year, it would match half of that".[25](Npr) Wallace thought it was a great idea, because even if she has not enough money to put in one month, she doesn't need to worry about that. Now she has an account and save 50 dollars per month in it. This program is designed to help women with low or relatively low incomes save for their retired life and to alleviate the retirement crisis for them. Due to the lagged economic status in Appalachian regions and discriminations, there are an increasing number of women who are getting jobs without comprehensive benefits, such as retirement plans. Instead of consumption, it is an investment to have this saving account. Many mothers put their children at first place and will not start to save money for their retirement until their children are independent and do not need their help any more. However, this program is encouraging them to save money for their own need instead of their kids'. There are also some complaints. Most of them complain that they don't have enough time to attend the financial classes and money is always not enough to spare. In a word, the road ahead of Appalachian Saving Project will not be flat. All it wants is that women can realize they can save for themselves and then save more.[25]

Outside perspectives and stereotypes[edit]

Though mainstream Americans assume that Appalachian culture is homogeneous in the region, many distinct locales and sub-regions exist.[13][26] Over-generalizations of Appalachianites as impulsive, personalistic, and individualistic "hillbillies" abound. Many scholars speculate that these stereotypes have been created by powerful economic and political forces to justify exploitation of Appalachian peoples.[13] For example, the same forces that put up barriers to prevent the development of civic culture promulgate the image of Appalachian peoples as politically apathetic, without a social consciousness, and deserving of their disenfranchised state. In spite of the region's desperate need for aid, weariness of being represented as "helpless, dumb and poor" often creates an attitude of hostility among Appalachianites.[27]

Appalachians as a separate status group[edit]

It has been suggested that Appalachia constitutes a separate status group under the sociologist Max Weber's definition.[28] The criteria are tradition, endogamy, an emphasis on intimate interaction and isolation from outsiders, monopolization of economic opportunities, and ownership of certain commodities rather than others.[28] Appalachia fulfills at least the first four, if not all five.[13] Furthermore, mainstream Americans tend to see Appalachia as a separate subculture of low status. Based on these facts, it is reasonable to say that Appalachia constitutes a separate status group.[1][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hurst, Charles. (1992). Inequality in Appalachia. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences, 6th Edition. Pearson Education. pp 62-68.
  2. ^ Tickamyer, Ann; Cynthia, Duncan. (1990). Poverty and Opportunity Structure in Rural America. Annual Review of Sociology. 16:67-86. Retrieved November 28 from Academic Search Premier.
  3. ^ a b Denham, Sharon; Mande, Man; Meyer, Michael; Toborg, Mary. (2004). Providing Health Education to Appalachia Populations. Holistic Nursing Practices 2{X)4:I8(6):293-3O1. Retrieved November 30 from Academic Search Premier.
  4. ^ a b THORNE, DEBORAH; TICKAMYER, ANN; THORNE, MARK. (2005). Poverty and Income in Appalachia. Journal of Appalachian Studies. Volume 10 Number 3. Retrieved November 29 from Academic Search Premier.
  5. ^ a b c "ARC History". Appalachian Regional Commission. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  6. ^ Burton, M; Hatcher, R (2006). Introduction to Transportation section, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press. pp. 685–690.
  7. ^ Narciso, Dean. (1998). Appalachia spring: Will it ever come? Christian Science Monitor, 08827729, Vol. 90, Issue 215. Retrieved November 28 from Academic Search Premier.
  8. ^ a b c Ziliak, James P. "Human capital and the challenge of persistent poverty in Appalachia". Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  9. ^ Burris, Theresa L. "Appalachian cultural consequences from the War on Poverty". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  10. ^ Foer, Franklin, Allen, Jodie T. (1999). Is Poverty Fixable? U.S. News & World Report, 00415537, Vol. 127, Issue 3 Retrieved November 28 From Academic Search Premier.
  11. ^ a b Deaton, James. LAND "IN HEIRS": BUILDING A HYPOTHESIS CONCERNING TENANCY IN COMMON AND THE PERSISTENCE OF POVERTY IN CENTRAL APPALACHIA. Journal of Appalachian Studies. VOLUME 11 NUMBERS 1 & 2. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from Academic Search Premier.
  12. ^ a b c d Duncan, Cynthia Mildred. (1999). Civic Life in Gray Mountain. Connection: New England's Journal of Higher Education & Economic Development, Vol. 14, Issue 2, Retrieved November 29 From Academic Search Premier.
  13. ^ a b c d e Billings, Dwight. (1974). Culture and Poverty in Appalachia: a Theoretical Discussion and Empirical Analysis. Social Forces vol. 53:2. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from Academic Search Premier.
  14. ^ Vidulich, Dorothy. (1995). Church at home in Appalachian hills. National Catholic Reporter, 00278939, Vol. 31, Issue 39. Retrieved November 29 from Academic Search Premier.
  15. ^ Otterbein, F. K (2000). "Five Feuds: An Analysis of Homicides in Eastern Kentucky in the Late Nineteenth Century". American Anthropologist. 102 (2): 231–243. doi:10.1525/aa.2000.102.2.231.
  16. ^ Billings, D. B; Blee, K.M (1996). "Where the Sun Set Crimson and the Moon Rose Red": Writing Appalachia and the Kentucky Mountain Feuds". Southern Cultures. 2 (3/4): 329–352. doi:10.1353/scu.1996.0005.
  17. ^ a b c Shaw, THOMAS; DeYoun, Allan; Redemacher, Eric. (2005). EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT IN APPALACHIA: GROWING WITH THE NATION, BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN. Journal of Appalachian Studies. Volume 10 Number 3. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from Academic Search Premier.
  18. ^ a b c DeYang, A (2006). Introduction to Education section, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press. pp. 1517–1521.
  19. ^ Alvic, P (2006). "Settlement, Mission, and Sponsored Schools". Encyclopedia of Appalachia: 1551.
  20. ^ a b "New Opportunity School for Women: A unique career and education program in Appalachia". National Career Development Association. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  21. ^ a b c d e Francis, Caroline. "New opportunity school for women: A unique career and education program in Appalachia". National Career Development Association. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  22. ^ Oberhauser, Ann; Latimer, Melissa. (2005). EXPLORING GENDER AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN APPALACHIA. Journal of Appalachian Studies. Volume 10 Number 3. Retrieved November 28 from Academic Search Premier.
  23. ^ "The Women of Appalachia". Appalachian Voices. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  24. ^ "The Heart of The Mountaintop Removal Movement". Appalachian Voices. 2011-02-04. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  25. ^ a b Ludden, Jennifer. "Rural Appalachia Helps Some Women Save For Retirement". npr. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  26. ^ Oberhauser, Ann M. (1995). Towards a gendered regional geography: Women and work in rural Appalachia. Growth & Change, 00174815, Spring 95, Vol. 26, Issue 2. Retrieved November 29 from Academic Search Premier Database.
  27. ^ Mellon, Steve. (2001). Carefully Choosing the Images of Poverty. Nieman Reports, 00289817, Vol. 55, Issue 1. Retrieved November 28 from Academic Search Premier.
  28. ^ a b Hurst, Charles. (1992). The Theory of Social Status. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences, 6th Edition. Pearson Education. pp 46.