Obama’s Appalachian Commission Looks for Direction
[imgbelt img=whismeet.jpg]There hasn’t been much economic progress in Appalachia over the last decade. President Obama’s choice to run the Appalachian Regional Commission is now searching for a way forward.
“There were very poor counties, underdeveloped, [that] really didn’t have the infrastructure necessary to participate in the American economy,” said Jesse White, co-chair of the ARC from 1994 to 2003. “Back then, the federal grant and aid programs required a local match, and many of these communities were too poor to come up with even that.”
One in three Appalachians lived in poverty at the time of the ARC’s founding, and the per capita income for the region was 23 percent lower than the nation as a whole. Of the 420 counties in the region, 223 were classified as economically distressed; today, that number is 82.
White cited a 1995 study and subsequent 2000 follow-up to attest to the agency’s effectiveness. The study found that, when compared to “twin counties” of similar economic conditions outside of Appalachia, counties within the region experienced greater economic growth and development. However, the ARC is not without its critics, and not everyone agrees the ARC is driving the progress seen in the region.
“Too much money was being put into roads and not enough into community development of smaller communities,” said Helen Lewis, a sociologist and educator who has written extensively about Appalachia and who was among the ARC’s early critics. “I think they could’ve done more to preserve community health centers, [and] they could’ve done more on some of the health problems.”