POLYNERVOUSTICKS - Say It Ain't So

(11/05/2001)

By Bob Weaver

RECESSION HITS AGAIN, BARELY NOTICED IN THESE PARTS - The newscaster announced with alarm last week, the American economy is definitely in recession with unemployment rising to 5.4%. It seemed of little note to those of us who live in the "black hole" counties of West Virginia, whose unemployment stats have remained at record highs for many years, despite any "boom" America is experiencing.

Calhoun's numbers rarely fall below 15% and more often than not stand above 20% since the 1980's. Unemployment numbers are carefully controlled by government and generally do not reflect the gravity of the problem. For example, when the unemployment check runs out, the person is no longer an unemployment statistic.

West Virginia politicians frequently weave a delusional account of how good the economy is doing under their leadership. Nearly every independent group dispels such reporting as bogus. Counties in central West Virginia, in addition to southern coal counties, are falling rapidly in most economic profiles. Beyond an inability to create new jobs, hundreds are being lost in the past few years, including 550 or so in neighboring Roane these past months.

Unable to secure new jobs, economic development folks say it is because of location, location, location - a lack of access roads and infrastructure. In many counties it is lack of flat land, certainly true in Calhoun. Many of the employers who have pulled out say their operations are not profitable, and have moved them into a foreign labor market, discontented with our $5 to $7 an hour wage and benefit packages.

Some politicos say local yokels need more "economic development" bootstrap training, and that's the real problem. It's an attitude problem.

It is questionable why governments that control most everything moving or breathing, cannot, as an act of human kindness, extend graceful help to the unemployed Appalachian worker. The kind of help, not give-a-ways, that build the economy.

Government programs that were suppose to help, have not. Politicians, while not blaming each other for failure, usually imply the local people do not have the skill to take advantage of their programs. One of our Senators said at a public meeting we need better grant writers, implying we don't know how to take advantage.

The high-dollar investment of government programs like the Appalachian Regional Council have not filtered down to the poor folks. Most of the money went to the highest populated and most developed of the 406 counties, a few bucks to the 100 poorest. The ARC is now saying they are going to change that. We're planning on going to their meeting this week in Prestonburg KY.

Meanwhile, we slide some more, a disconnect with business, industry and government.

Say it ain't so.


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