No victory in war on poverty in eastern Kentucky

Fifty-year campaign shows strengths, limitations of government programs

President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes the hand of one of the residents of Appalachia in 1964 as he launched his War on Poverty. (Cecil Stoughton, LBJ Library)

President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes the hand of one of the residents of Appalachia in 1964 as he launched his War on Poverty. (Cecil Stoughton, LBJ Library)

INEZ, Ky. — Fifty years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson drove into this Appalachian town, Route 3 was a two-lane road that hugged the mountains in tight curves. Minzie Stanley was 6 years old, living with her parents and 17 brothers and sisters on one of the narrow gravel lanes that sprouted off the main road.

Johnson was there to shine a spotlight on families living in rural poverty, families such as Stanley’s. Minzie’s father didn’t have a steady job. The family had to grow everything they ate, or they’d go hungry. She got a pair of hand-me-down shoes once a year if she was lucky. There were few good-paying jobs. College was a distant dream.

Stanley moved up and out of poverty, thanks to a coal boom that provided her husband with steady work as a miner. But the cycle wasn’t broken. Her daughter, Jennifer Jarrell, 34, and two grandchildren live on food stamps and child support in a two-bedroom trailer that’s more than 30 years old.

“We’ve progressed in certain areas,” Jarrell says. “We do have things like indoor plumbing.”

READ MORE at USA TODAY.com.

 

Helping parents and children move ahead

For the policy wonks in all of us, I moderated  a lively discussion on July 9 with CLASP, Foundation for Child Development and Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray about successes and challenges in helping parents improve their education and career options while also helping their children’ss early development. New findings by Donald J. Hernandez, sociology professor at Hunter College, show some pretty striking differences in how well children do depending on their mothers’ education.

The other panelists included:

Olivia Golden, Executive Director, CLASP; former Assistant Secretary for Children and Families

Dr. Gail Mellow, President, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY

Juan Salgado, President and CEO, Instituto Del Progreso Latino, Chicago, IL

 

For the poor, recovery is a mirage

Damien Hall, 35, stands on the front porch of his home with his wife, Franshel Hall, 25, and their son Damien Jr., 4, while watching Aaniya Hall (left), 8, and Daniel Hall, 3, ride Big Wheels on the sidewalk in front of their house in Piqua, Ohio. (Photo: By Ty Wright for USA TODAY)

TROY, Ohio — ​​​​​​The rise in poverty here is evident in the mass of people who crowd the waiting room of the free health clinic every Thursday night — so many that the volunteer staff turns away about half of them.

It is marked by the bare shelves of the food pantry at Richards Chapel United Methodist Church, a one-story sanctuary where dozens of laid-off factory workers, retirees and young parents with children fill the dining hall daily for a free lunch.

And it is lived by Nancy Scott, a former stay-at-home mom working a temporary minimum-wage job, who says she had to choose between exhausting her paycheck on rent and utilities or living in her 1990 pickup.

She chose the truck.

This rural community, 22 miles north of Dayton, has seen an explosion of poverty in the past four years that is among the highest increases in the nation. Last year, 16,000 people lived in poverty in Miami County — one of every six residents, the Census says. Four years ago, just as the Great Recession was taking its grip on the nation, one in 16, or 6,000 people, suffered in poverty here.

The recession hit the Miami Valley hard, squeezing the lifeblood of the local economy: the auto industry and manufacturers that shed thousands of jobs. Families living on the margins of poverty found themselves catapulted into its misery.

This pain has festered even as the circumstances for many Americans have improved. Although the U.S. poverty rate hovers at a daunting 15%, economists agree a slow recovery is afoot. Housing prices are stabilizing, manufacturing is rebounding and last week’s consumer confidence index reached the highest level in five years.

But for people in Troy — and the tens of millions of Americans like them — the daily hardships of poverty aren’t captured in statistics or healed by political promises. As lawmakers in Washington grapple with the “fiscal cliff” and Americans do their holiday shopping, thousands of people in Miami County are managing on little or no income.

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