It is said that you are only as strong as your weakest link. For America, that weak link is the Appalachian region. Even with beautiful scenery, tremendous outdoor possibility, and rich historic heritage, this region in America remains among the worst areas in the country. That is a title I don’t throw around lightly, but unfortunately, the statistics speak for themselves.
The state of the Appalachian Region
In 2015, Market Watch ranked Charleston, WV and the Huntington, WV tri-state metro area as the second and first most miserable areas in the country. In Huntington alone, the Well-Being index is reported at a mere 59.5%. There is a 40% obesity rate in this area. And sadly, no other metro area scored worse off in emotional health and stability, making depression all too common.
This hit home for me in particular, being that I was raised (and currently live) in the very area that is ranked as worst in the nation. It’s something I take no pride in writing about. However, it is the lack of individuals acknowledging the problem at hand that is preventing any real change from occurring.
During the heat of the 2016 presidential election season, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and Bernie Sanders, for that matter) traveled to this very area to listen to the concerns of residents in the most miserable part of the country. At this point, it is well known that Trump dominated Clinton in this region. Donald Trump took all of Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky on November 8. This is in part due to a misstep on Clinton’s part admitting to her desire to put “coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Trump heard this and capitalized on the opportunity. He quickly became the champion of coal country, promising to save the industry and put miners back to work following President Obama’s EPA which had devastated the industry.
The man who bragged about acquiring a “small loan of a million dollars” from his father became the voice of coal country.
“Rather than assessing their problem appropriately, Appalachia choose to vote for a man who they think can solve all of their problems for them.”
While it’s true that the regulations under the Obama administration have been devastating for this region, the fatal mistake that Appalachia made is believing that Donald Trump would fix their lives, if only they voted for him. To the disbelief of many in the region, both Clinton and Trump are wrong on coal. Clinton’s mistake was believing the government should force coal country out of business. Government should never be in the business of killing any industry. That is a factor that must be decided on a market level and cannot be forced to change by government. Likewise, government should also never be in the business in saving an industry either, including coal.
Rather than assessing their problem appropriately, Appalachia choose to vote for a man who they think can solve all of their problems for them. Donald Trump cannot save coal country. That is something they must do themselves.
The Appalachian Region Must Adapt
While it is easy to blame Washington for the troubles that many face in this region, the root of the problem comes from their own hands. Much like the man that overwhelmingly swept through Appalachia, the area holds tight to the ideas of protectionism. The entire region is so dependent on coal that they will do anything to protect it, rather than using some of that energy to look outwards and allow new industry to flourish. It is all too easy to complain about the EPA, but if you have focused so much energy into making your entire economy a single industry economy, you must reap the fruits of that labor when things don’t go as well as planned.
What too many fail to accept is that, just because you have a heritage in an industry that made you economically powerful, that heritage may not keep you economically powerful. Just as it is smart to diversify your portfolio in your personal finances, economies must do the same or suffer the consequences.
Though Trump carried West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio, mostly out of his support for coal, Appalachia is far from free market. Unions have a stronghold on this region and the economy suffers because of it. The only answer to higher standards of living, a better economy, and a stronger people in the Appalachian area is a free market of industry competing to improve the lives of every person in the region.
Appalachia must remember that they have a rich history of overcoming adversity and hardships, not by clinging to the past, but by making the bold and uncomfortable choices that had to be made. So too will this be the way they can once again overcome adversity.
Make no mistake, coal is a wonderful industry that provides thousands of jobs and turns the lights on for millions of people, but it is a dying industry. To ignore this fact, rather than come up with the right solutions, will damn the region.
“The answer must not come from Washington or the new Trump administration.”I sincerely hope that now with a new year and a soon to be new administration, those in this area will likewise give a new look at the problems they face. This is not only a problem for this region but a problem for this nation. The answer must not come from Washington or the new Trump administration. Giving the government power to fix your life is to give the government the power to control your life. The answers must come out of every individual in that region. Allowing the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation to take charge in the life of every individual will provide no need for Trump to make anything great again.
Every person has it in their own ability to improve their own lives, but far too many in the region settle for complacency.
This is a topic that hits far too close to home for me as I write this, but it is an issue I have no doubt people in Appalachia can overcome, should they make the changes necessary to survive and thrive.