Central Appalachia is a part of the country deeply rooted in its own history, identity and sense of place. Over the course of a week, we visited several cities and towns from Charleston, West Virginia through eastern Kentucky. Charleston’s population is slowly diversifying, with 78 percent identifying as white. The median wages in Charleston vary considerably by race and ethnicity, with whites earning approximately $14,000 more than blacks. Cutbacks in the coal industry have impacted the community tremendously with 1 in 5 living in poverty. In eastern Kentucky, Perry County has experienced a population downturn in recent years, but its population of people of color has risen slightly. In Kentucky, the statewide median wage is just over $29,000, but in Perry County, it is $2,500 less. Six in 10 jobs in Kentucky require at least some college, but only four in 10 Perry County residents have any college education.
Along the way, we held in-depth discussions with residents, conducted focus groups and roundtable discussions with community leaders and local civic organizations. We heard about the hardships and resilience of coal miners who are looking for ways to transition to the new economy. In West Virginia, we learned about a school using innovative, trauma-informed approaches in St. Alban’s, a drug court program in Boone County that is giving people a second chance, and a community health center in Williamson that is an anchor for revitalization. We visited the Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to learn about the storytelling they’ve done for more than 30 years.
In Charleston, WV, we held three focus groups with mixed gender black residents and non-college-educated white men and women. In Kentucky, we stopped in at the Appalshop in Whitesburg to learn about the storytelling they’ve done for more than 30 years. In Hazard, we held a roundtable with educators working to create new pathways to economic opportunity in a longtime mining community visited by former Senator Bobby Kennedy over 51 years ago. In Charleston, WV, we held three focus groups with mixed gender black residents and non-college-educated white men and women. In Perry County, KY, we spoke with one focus group of non-college-educated white men and women. Learn more by reading the full report.