Reason Podcast

McDowell Is the Poorest, Sickest, Most Hopeless County in America. Why Doesn't Everyone Just Leave? (Reason Podcast)

Ronald Bailey traveled back to his familial home to find out what went wrong in Appalachia.


The short answer: Most did leave. In the last half-century, about 80 percent of the population of McDowell County, West Virginia, departed as jobs disappeared and civic life frayed, writes Reason's Ron Bailey in "Stuck," a story in our January 2017 issue. So why does the other 20 percent stay put?

Bailey's grandparents left McDowell County around 1950, at a time when the town of Welch was known to locals as "Little New York." When Bailey visited recently, he found only empty streets with the exception of a lone pickup truck.

Today, "nearly 47 percent of all personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps…and other federal programs," Bailey writes. Twenty-five percent of residents under 65 are considered disabled, and only 32 percent of those over 16 are part of the workforce.

In our latest podcast, Bailey talks with Nick Gillespie about those who stayed behind and what it says about American poverty. Part of the problem is that "at this point, the government is paying poor people to stay there and remain poor," Bailey argues.

The interview touches on the role of welfare, the federal disability program, and how Bailey's research relates to Charles Murray's Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, and Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance's blockbuster 2016 memoir of growing up in rural Ohio (which Bailey reviewed for Reason).

Click below to listen to that conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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