Appalachian agency’s new approach may benefit

An editorial from theParkersburg News and Sentinel       

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia University took part in the analysis of 50 years’ worth of data on the Appalachian Regional Commission’s impact on the region it was intended to help. Despite nearly $4 billion invested in non-highway projects in the region since President Lyndon Johnson created the commission, the report showed our region still lags far behind in areas such as education, economics and physical well-being.

And researchers noted lingering problems, such as high mortality rates and dependency on government checks. (Yes, research on the effects of government programs to help a region notes that dependence on the government is a problem.)

Appalachia has caught up a bit to the rest of the country, in terms of financial well-being. But closer inspection shows entitlement programs such as Social Security and unemployment payments make up approximately 24 percent of personal income in the region, compared with 17 percent nationally.

Mortality rates linger where they were in the 1960s, with higher rates of obesity and diabetes plaguing Appalachia. Even the job-creation program that, on paper, led to an average 4.2 percent higher employment growth and 5.5 percent per capita income growth over 50 years, in reality dropped and leveled off in the 1980s. According to the report, many more jobs were created during the Commission’s early years, when it was receiving more funding from the federal government. In other words, while otherwise unsupportable job development was shored up with federal subsidies, there was “growth.” But, no longer.

“We moved from large appropriations funding big public works projects. And it’s now I would say a leaner commission that focuses on developing strategic partnerships,” said the commission’s federal co-chairman, Earl Gohl.

Fifty years of throwing money at a region the federal government believed was a problem ended up doing very little good. If the folks in Washington, D.C., had been serious about fighting poverty in Appalachia to begin with, instead of dragging the people of Appalachia further into dependence, they might have tried to stay leaner and be more strategic, from the start.

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