Vast Stretches Of Impoverished Appalachia Look Like They Have Been Through A War

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Michael Snyder of The Economic Collapse blog,

If you want to get an idea of where the rest of America is heading, just take a trip through the western half of West Virginia and the eastern half of Kentucky some time.  Once you leave the main highways, you will rapidly encounter poverty on a level that is absolutely staggering.  Overall, about 15 percent of the entire nation is under the poverty line, but in some areas of eastern Kentucky, more than 40 percent of the population is living in poverty.  Most of the people would work if they could.  Over the past couple of decades, locals have witnessed businesses and industries leave the region at a steady pace.  When another factory or business shuts down, many of the unemployed do not even realize that their jobs have been shipped overseas.  Coal mining still produces jobs that pay a decent wage, but Barack Obama is doing his very best to kill off that entire industry.  After decades of decline, vast stretches of impoverished Appalachia look like they have been through a war.  Those living in the area know that things are not good, but they just try to do the best that they can with what they have.

In previous articles about areas of the country that are economically depressed, I have typically focused on large cities such as Detroit or Camden, New Jersey.  But the economic suffering that is taking place in rural communities in the heartland of America is just as tragic.  We just don't hear about it as much.

Most of those that live in the heart of Appalachia are really good "salt of the earth" people that just want to work hard and do what is right for their families.  But after decades of increasing poverty, the entire region has been transformed into an economic nightmare that never seems to end.  The following is a description of what life is like in Appalachia today that comes from a recent article by Kevin D. Williamson...

Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.

In these kinds of conditions, people do whatever they have to do just to survive.  With so much poverty around, serving those on food stamps has become an important part of the local economy.  In fact, cases of soda purchased with food stamps have become a form of "alternative currency" in the region.  In his article, Williamson described how this works...

It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.” A woman who is intimately familiar with the local drug economy suggests that the exchange rate between sexual favors and cases of pop — some dealers will accept either — is about 1:1, meaning that the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices.

I would encourage everyone to read the rest of Williamson's excellent article.  You can find the entire article right here.

In Appalachia, the abuse of alcohol, meth and other legal and illegal drugs is significantly higher than in the U.S. population as a whole.  In a desperate attempt to deal with the pain of their lives, many people living in the region are looking for anything that will allow them to "escape" for a little while.  The following is an excerpt from an excellent article by Chris Hedges which describes what life is like in the little town of Gary, West Virginia at this point...

Joe and I are sitting in the Tug River Health Clinic in Gary with a registered nurse who does not want her name used. The clinic handles federal and state black lung applications. It runs a program for those addicted to prescription pills. It also handles what in the local vernacular is known as “the crazy check” -- payments obtained for mental illness from Medicaid or SSI -- a vital source of income for those whose five years of welfare payments have run out. Doctors willing to diagnose a patient as mentally ill are important to economic survival.


“They come in and want to be diagnosed as soon as they can for the crazy check,” the nurse says. “They will insist to us they are crazy. They will tell us, ‘I know I’m not right.’ People here are very resigned. They will avoid working by being diagnosed as crazy.”


The reliance on government checks, and a vast array of painkillers and opiates, has turned towns like Gary into modern opium dens. The painkillers OxyContin, fentanyl -- 80 times stronger than morphine -- Lortab, as well as a wide variety of anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, are widely abused. Many top off their daily cocktail of painkillers at night with sleeping pills and muscle relaxants. And for fun, addicts, especially the young, hold “pharm parties,” in which they combine their pills in a bowl, scoop out handfuls of medication, swallow them, and wait to feel the result.

Of course this kind of thing is not just happening in the heart of Appalachia.  All over the country there are rural communities that are economically depressed.  In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, economic activity in about half of the counties in the entire nation is still below pre-recession levels...

About half of the nation’s 3,069 county economies are still short of their prerecession economic output, reflecting the uneven economic recovery, according to a new report from the National Association of Counties.

So what are our "leaders" doing to fix this?

Well, they plan to ship millions more of our good jobs overseas.

Unfortunately, I am not kidding.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are introducing "fast track" trade promotion authority legislation that will pave the way for rapid approval of the secret trade treaty that Barack Obama has been negotiating.  The following is how I described this insidious treaty in a previous article...

Did you know that the Obama administration is negotiating a super secret "trade agreement" that is so sensitive that he isn't even allowing members of Congress to see it?  The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being called the "NAFTA of the Pacific" and "NAFTA on steroids", but the truth is that it is so much more than just a trade agreement.  This treaty has 29 chapters, but only 5 of them have to do with trade.  Most Americans don't realize this, but this treaty will fundamentally change our laws regarding Internet freedom, health care, the trading of derivatives, copyright issues, food safety, environmental standards, civil liberties and so much more.  It will also merge the United States far more deeply into the emerging one world economic system.

Once again, our politicians are betraying the American people and millions of jobs will be lost as a result.

Not that the economy needs another reason to go downhill.  The truth is that our economic foundations have already been rotting away for quite some time.

But now the ongoing economic collapse seems to be picking up steam again.  For example, the Baltic Dry Index (a very important indicator of global economic activity) is collapsing at a rate not seen since the great financial crash of 2008...

Despite 'blaming' the drop in the cost of dry bulk shipping on Colombian coal restrictions, it seems increasingly clear that the 40% collapse in the Baltic Dry Index since the start of the year is more than just that. While this is the worst start to a year in over 30 years, the scale of this meltdown is only matched by the total devastation that occurred in Q3 2008. Of course, the mainstream media will continue to ignore this dour index until it decides to rise once again, but for now, 9 days in a row of plunging prices is yet another canary in the global trade coalmine and suggests what inventory stacking that occurred in Q3/4 2013 is anything but sustained.

Soon economic conditions will get even worse for Appalachia and for the rest of the country.  The consequences of decades of very foolish decisions are rapidly catching up with us, and millions upon millions of Americans are going to experience immense economic pain during the years to come.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
UH-60 Driver's picture

"about $12.99 at Walmart prices." 

Seems about right, with inflation and all "that".

john39's picture

the united states is being turned into a third world country...  stripped of resources, polluted and wrecked.  fracking is just one example. 

flacon's picture

"You didn't impoverish that".

"If you like your poverty, you can keep it." 

mjcOH1's picture

"“They come in and want to be diagnosed as soon as they can for the crazy check,” the nurse says. “They will insist to us they are crazy. They will tell us, ‘I know I’m not right.’ People here are very resigned. They will avoid working by being diagnosed as crazy.”


That's not resigned.   That's determined.

kaiserhoff's picture

This is the crap New Yawkers want to believe about America, especially the South.

Add in the marijuana money and the 'shine money, and they are doing all right.  Just don't mess around the back forty without a polite introduction.  If you look carefully at night, the grow lights in the basement give some of the houses that encounters of the third kind levitation look.  Really cool.  It's an illusion..., I hope.

BaBaBouy's picture

Goooo Omoaba ...

Mr. Peacenick And Nobel Winner ...



Bananamerican's picture

"this treaty will fundamentally change our laws regarding Internet freedom, health care, the trading of derivatives, copyright issues, food safety, environmental standards, civil liberties and so much more."

Where's a good place to find more detailed info on these "provisions"??

Joe A's picture

Two chapters leaked:  intellectual property and environment.

The environmental chapter does not hold any substantial powefull instruments in order to prevent or punish environmental pollution etc. After all why would one want environmental protection in the way of business?

I think just in the case of the 'free trade' agreement that is secretively negociated with the EU, the TPP will give legal representatives of big business arbitral power over national legislation.....

That's all I know. Perhaps somebody else has more info.

Joe A's picture

Yeah, that is what this story reminded me of as well. Interesting movie that portrays a subculture that I really had no idea of.

imapopulistnow's picture

They are poor white people. fuck'em.

Supernova Born's picture

The "war on poverty" debases all cultures reliably.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Appalachia is another demonstration how LBJ's crime against humanity ruined white people as easily as black. Pay people to be idle, to make fatherless kids, this is what you get.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

More casualty in "War on Prosperity". Boris remember when Soviet politburo rejoice for LBJ policy. What Soviet could not win by force, is won by collapse of American sense and value. But this is not matter of Soviet or America, this is dark cloud of progressivism despotism to descend on every clime, region, and tongue.

Pool Shark's picture



None of this could possibly be true since, according to the article immediately preceding this one, one out of every 26 households in West Virginia is worth more than $1,000,000.00.


TerminalDebt's picture

Time for a war so we can show them how rich America is.

When you see nice planes dropping big bombs you feel good about being American regardless of how poor you are.

Handful of Dust's picture

"The Meek shall inherit the Earth."

...but little else....

GetZeeGold's picture







As soon as we lower the oceans.....we'll get to Appalachia.

nmewn's picture

Exactly right!

Obama needs to issue Executive Orders to correct these pressing issues. If he won't do it, we'll find a dictator who will!!!

krispkritter's picture

I'm sure 'they' are working on it already...

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Oh, I'm not so sure. Impoverished ,drugged people living in dispair and having no hope has never been a pressing issue to any government. Now, an intelligent, healthy, aware population that has potential to organize and fight back? Hmmm, whole different animal.


Lore's picture

Re: "Time for a war so we can show them how rich America is."

Take a look at some of these places in StreetView, and you find a whole lot of young men and women in the streets, ripe for military recruitment:  "Hello there, young man/woman! How would you like to SERVE YOUR COUNTRY?"  It may be the closest thing to a 'career' and 'future' that many ever see: clean clothes, hot meals, a place to sleep, discipline, direction, 'family,' and a chance to travel the world and blow stuff up like in 'Call of Duty.' 

In the old days of WW2, the eldest son was considered exempt, as there was a need to run the family farm.  Everyone else was fair game, unless you were 4F (unfit), in which case you were ostracized: "Why aren't you fighting for your country?" In Canada, you were expected to fight for "Queen AND country."  It's tempting to look down on our forbears and think them ignorant, brainwashed morons, except nothing has changed.  The old formula still works.  Set 'em up, knock 'em down...

RSloane's picture

Obama's 'progressivism' did lead him to state that he wanted to level the economic playing field for everyone. People didnt seem to realize at the time that he meant he was determined to make everyone equally poor regardless of race or where one lived. Think of it as Detroit out in the country.  

Supernova Born's picture

The Dystopian Tour Company.

"See Detroit, West Virginia, and Newark from the comfort of an armored, NBC protected tour bus.

NuckingFuts's picture

You should read more of Daniel Woodrells fiction , or as we call it here in Missouri, real life.

Zadok's picture

SW Missouri (misery) ain't much different...

jimmytorpedo's picture

Dear Tylers, Please make 4Chans avatar bigger.

I'm only going to ask a thousand more times.

TheGardener's picture

Free trade agreements as they are called will make sure all those pesty small and medium enterprises are thrown under the bus. Nobody will openly trade a Manhattan for some glass pearls but trade "partners" will get an even worse
deal because they know shit about American Legalese.

mkkby's picture

Two points. 

First, obviously what these poor folks need is medical insurance with a $6000 deductible.  Lucky the teleprompter in chief took care of that one.

Second, isn't it funny that stories like this come out just when Obama decides to focus on his "war" on economic inequality -- a fancy name for poverty?  I'm sure it's a coincidence...  nothing to do with the progressives wanting to increase the minimum wage, or welfare to the free shit army.

G-R-U-N-T's picture

It would be interesting to know how many people are receiving government assistance in the "Vast Stretches Of Impoverished Appalachia"? 


RSloane's picture

Literally half the country is receiving some sort of welfare subsistence. I am not sure if this also includes our vast army of newly disabled.

BandGap's picture

I lived in WV for 8 years. Made a great lliving. There are pockets of surprising prosperity and then utter dependency, sometimes side by side. Zoning is a joke.

Some locales actually pile up garbage all winter when they can't haul it, and throw it into rivers during the spring high water. There are some odd people and odd places in the state.

It is a beautiful statefor the most part.

drendebe10's picture

All ye, bow down and give thamks to the arrogant, lying narcissistic illegal kenyan azzhole so je and the wookie can live there imperial grand life style while the peasamts and serfs eat ebt cake.

jimmytorpedo's picture

Cloward-Piven,...full steam ahead!

InjectTheVenom's picture

Yup !     Funny how i never see anybody  @MSM mentioning C&P  ... ?!    Almost as if they're trying to distract us from what's really going on !

GetZeeGold's picture




When they come down from the 5 year climax.....I'm sure someone will mention it.


After they have a smoke that is.....

Spumoni's picture

Having done business in rural Appalachia for more than 30 years, I can affirm the author's views to some extent. The poverty throughout the region is astounding - but it did not happen last week, last year or indeed even in the last 20 years. Poverty has been the common thread of existence in the mountain areas since they were settled. Coal mining is a curse on the planet, and we as a species really need to find other ways to produce energy, but that is not the point I wish to make here. There are other 'anchor' employers in the region, and I sure ain't talking about Wallfart. There is still a small but widespread distribution of factories. Tree farming has, er...taken root in the region and provides a sustainable and diverse income. Most of what one sees are Christmas tree farms, but there are many small nurseries for hardwoods and ornamentals. Valley floors are farmed with grains and livestock. Here and there is a mine or quarry. Quarrying bluestone and granite has added jobs and money throughout the region. The Appalachian businessman knows that intrastate export means local dollar import, and exploits that dynamic well. If you get milk in cartons, your milk carton is made in a small town in North Carolina. 

The people of Appalachia are versatile and hardy. While they lack many services citytowners take for granted (trash pickup, water/sewer, decent grocery stores, etc), there are few who can do so much with so little. I may not agree with the prevalent politics, but I deeply admire the way they raise their children. Everyone can grow a garden, raise chickens, hunt/dress/preserve wild game, and carry on a conversation. For the most part, a man's word is still his bond-and if someone is a cheat or a liar, s/he is known and labeled so by the people around. As for the whisky, well, some will kill you, and some will make an old man feel mighty young for a few hours. Nowhere on earth is the fiddle or banjo played with more skill and less abandon.

Appalachians have a strong sense of neighborhood and community. They still look out for their neighbors, take care of their elderly and keep watch on the village young. If you "ain't from 'round here,' it might be a good idea to get an introduction before you go driving into some 'towns' you might see on the map. You could get lost. The poverty is so bad in some places that a person displaying too much bling stands an excellent chance of losing it. Better to keep a low profile and carry protection. A cell phone won't be much help. Bring a hospitable spirit with you, and you'll generally find one welcoming you in return. Avoid the place if you don't believe that your own excrement has a pungent and unpleasant aroma. 

One thing is certain- imbedded distrust of governments and their agents runs very deep and wide. If things come to a deep and true depression, life expectancy among Appalachians will be considerably higher than for those living in the city. I don't know what the financial services crowd is going to eat then - each other I suppose. 

The only poverty that limits a man is the poverty of thought and imagination. There is plenty of both in the mountains.


juangrande's picture

The above applies to the deep south, mountain west, and many parts of the upper midwest.

Frank N. Beans's picture

so they don't trust government, which is fine, yet they'll take all the government benefits they can.


Bangin7GramRocks's picture

87% of moms in Appalachia believe that Mountain Dew wards off evil spirits. That's why each child from the age of 8 weeks consumes mass quantities daily. Look it up! It's science!

Lore's picture

Here in Canada, we drive away the evil spirit by purchasing "CARBON OFFSETS."  Science is so groovy.

juangrande's picture

I, too, was struck by the use of low grade poison as a trading currency.

midtowng's picture

Those people should keep electing those right-wing assholes that support free trade agreements if they like their poverty so much.

Overfed's picture

 Like Clinton, O'bomb-a and Swinestein? Get over the false Left/Right paradigm, dude. They are ALL working to sell us out and have been for over 40 years.

therover's picture

Damn right. When people start realizing it's a one party system, run by lawyers, and the fact that the first thing 'we the people' can do is vote out ANY lawyer in office and demand that NO lawyer be allowed to be in politics, is the first step to getting back OUR country.

CH1's picture

the first thing 'we the people' can do is...

Stop Obeying Them. Walk Away From Their Game.

As long as we keep obeying, why should anything change?

GetZeeGold's picture



Got plenty of top leaders from both sides in the cult.


They'll let you join.....but fair's wicked expensive.


The cult is neither Democrat or's kinda it's own thing actually.