Naomi McCulloch

J.D. Vance's memoir of growing up poor in Appalachia, both in Kentucky and Ohio, Hillbilly Elegy, has been on the New York Times best-seller list since it came out early this summer.

It's the story of his life, but also the story of white, working-class "hillbillies"--people he describes as having a very deep affiliation with Appalachia and the communities that make up the region.

Vance says the "elegy" in the book's title doesn't imply the death of the culture but it shows a "sad reflection" of parts of the area. "It's important to note it's not what's going on in every part of hillbilly country," he says. "There are some good things along with the bad. But there are some very significant problems."

Vance admittedly had a lot of things work out for him. He joined the Marines right out of high school, graduated from Ohio State University right after that and then onto Yale Law School. "This isn't a 'boot-strap' story about how one kid through grit and determination and brain power made it," he says. "It's more a story of how one kid got really lucky. People feel pretty kicked and down in this part of the world, the world has been tough in this area."

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky is working on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring broadband internet to the eastern part of the state, home to some of the country’s most impoverished places. A federal report released this year found that from around a third to nearly half of rural residents in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia lack high-speed internet and the job opportunities that come with it. But a few areas are ahead of the curve. In Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties, broadband has already arrived and is already creating jobs.

With a population of 1,095, Annville, Kentucky is one of the bigger towns in Jackson County. It’s surrounded by grassy fields and rolling hills, which are the inspiration for the county’s tourism slogan: “Where the Mountains and the Bluegrass Blend.

It’s not easy to find a job in Jackson County. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Most people who have jobs work outside the county. For Annville resident Alisha Tanfield, those long costly commutes made it hard to make ends meet. “After you pay gas, you’re not making anything,” she said.

If you’re barely getting by and your livelihood depends on a long commute, car troubles can create a major crisis. When Tanfield’s car broke down she lost what income she had and found herself struggling to provide for her two daughters. Then Tanfield heard about a friend who had found a work-from-home job through the Teleworks USA job board. Tanfield says she’d always been curious about work-from-home jobs but hadn’t tried applying for any because she thought a lot of them are scams.

public domain

Poverty grips more than a quarter of Kentucky’s kids.

About 260,000 children in Kentucky live in poverty, and more are living in pockets of poverty across the state than in years prior, according to the 2016 Kids Count report.

The report is produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and co-released with Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, called this year’s findings bad news for Kentucky’s kids and families. The state ranks 35th in the overall economic well-being of children, per the report. That’s a slightly worse ranking than in 2015, Brooks said.

“Are we, as a commonwealth, content with being in the bottom third of states when it comes to child well-being,” he said.

Kentucky State Government

The leader of the Kentucky Youth Advocates is renewing his call for state lawmakers to pass an Earned Income Tax Credit.

Terry Brooks points out the federal government and 32 states offer the program.

The refundable credit is aimed at low-to-moderate working individuals and couples, and is based on income and number of children.

Brooks says the program has gained bipartisan support throughout the years.

“What I love about it from a political perspective is that the EITC was invented by Richard Nixon, and its three biggest fans were Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.”

Brooks says an Earned Income Tax Credit would be an effective tool in fighting poverty in the Bluegrass State.

A report issued by the Kentucky Youth Advocates last fall showed 26 percent of the state’s youth live in poverty.

“Unless, and until, we as a commonwealth begin to address that aspect of what it means to grow up in Kentucky, health outcomes, academic achievement outcomes, safety outcomes are all going to be tamped down,” Brooks said.

Despite improvement in the national economy in recent years, more Kentucky children were living in poverty in 2014 than the year prior, according to data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

About 260,000 Kentucky children lived in poverty in 2014, accounting for more than 26 percent of the state’s kids, the Census data show. That’s a slight increase from 2013, when the rate was 25.3.

Although the one-year shift is considered statistically insignificant, it means that nearly nearly 9,000 more children lived in poverty across Kentucky during 2014 than the year before. And it confirms a steady increase in the state’s child poverty rate since the epic economic recession that began in 2008. That year, about 23 percent of Kentucky kids lived in poverty, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census data by Kentucky Youth Advocates.

It’s a trend consistent with the overall state poverty rate, which has increased from 17 percent to 19 percent since 2008, the data show.

Children living in impoverished families are more likely to find hardship in social and academic settings, said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau show Kentucky ranks 40th in the nation for child poverty.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey says 25.3 percent of Kentucky children lived in poverty in 2013, which is a little more than three percent higher than the national average.

The latest Census Bureau figures also include child poverty rates for Kentucky counties with populations of over 65,000 people:

  • Boone County   12.5%
  • Bullitt County     13.8%
  • Campbell County  24.8%
  • Christian County  15.0%
  • Daviess County  20.9%
  • Fayette County  23.2%
  • Hardin County   20.7%
  • Jefferson County  22.4%
  • Kenton County  22.4%
  • McCracken County  31.9%
  • Madison County  21.3%
  • Pike County  25.7%
  • Warren County  22.5%

Kentucky Youth Advocates director Terry Brooks says anything that can be done to alleviate the number of economically distressed young people will pay off down the road.

President Lyndon B. Johnson went to eastern Kentucky in 1964 to promote his War on Poverty. But when he did, he opened a wound that remains raw today. People in the region say they're tired of always being depicted as poor, so when NPR's Pam Fessler went to Appalachia to report on how the War on Poverty is going, she was warned that people would be reluctant to talk. Instead, she got an earful.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show Kentucky with one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. The figures are part of the  bureau’s latest  American Community Survey which was released Thursday.

Kentucky had the fifth-highest percentage of residents living in poverty in 2012, behind only Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  A little more than  823,000 Kentuckians, or 19.4 percent of the state’s population, suffer through poverty. That represents a 0.3 percent increase in the commonwealth’s poverty rate since 2011.

By comparison, Tennessee’s poverty rate stood at 17.9 percent in 2012, an improvement of 0.4 percent over 2011. The poverty rate in Indiana was 15.6 percent, which was also an improvement of 0.4 percent.

There was at least one bit of good news for the Bluegrass State in the latest survey. Kentucky is one of just three states to see a statistically significant increase in the rate of private health insurance coverage from 2010 to 2012.

You can see a report containing the latest American Community Survey data on poverty in the U.S here.

Nearly one in ten Kentuckians doesn’t have a bank account. That’s one of the findings in a new report issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A new report shows one in four Kentucky children lives in poverty, with their numbers growing since 2005. The latest Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana in the bottom half of states for overall child well-being.

A group of about twenty WKU students are participating in a homelessness simulation this weekend. They met at the Garrett Conference Center on the WKU campus last night to start the activity. Organizers say those who participate are learning about the realities of poverty in the world.