Monday, April 10, 2017

Appalachia youth grow up without loyalty to coal, look for other opportunities for their future

Hindman, Ky. (Best Places map)
Teddy Martin, a former Eastern Kentucky coal miner who teaches at a vocational school in Hindman, is trying to teach Appalachian youth that there is a promising future in the region that does not revolve around coal, Zack Colman reports for The Christian Science Monitor. He "hopes that learning trades will allow his students to stay in Hindman after they graduate, and perhaps start businesses of their own right here. Many want to, but worry they can’t."

Colman makes a key point about the old, largely depleted Appalachian coalfield: "The old mind-set that the region needs a big jobs provider—like coal—is hard to break. Younger generations watch their parents endure unsteady employment and worry about their own prospects. Older generations can’t visualize a different way forward. One mistake outsiders make, many here say, is thinking all this is actually about coal. It’s not. It’s more about the life coal provided. Where else could you earn $80,000 a year with a high school education or less?"

Nevertheless, "Towns like Hindman, across a mining region that runs through the ancient folds of the Appalachian Mountains, from Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Tennessee, are beginning to see the opportunities—in fields such as tourism, agriculture, e-commerce, and environmental cleanup," Colman writes. And younger residents are "growing up without the deep-rooted loyalty to coal mining that their parents and grandparents harbored. They are looking to a different future. . . . Perhaps more than at any time in the past, the focus is on bootstrap ingenuity—encouraging a more entrepreneurial economy. The goal is not just to pump money into the region, but to help communities like Hindman foster the desire and have the tools to build a new future for themselves, one small business at a time."

Hindman is in Knott County, where the unemployment rate is 10 percent, twice the national average. The poverty rate is 33 percent and the county has one of the highest drug overdose rates in a state that is one of the nation's leaders in the dubious statistic, Colman writes.

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