'The coal and the dole:' an industry leaves some communities behind

By

Nancy Cole remembers the day things changed. She was a widow, had raised eight children on welfare, and knew somehow that there was something else she needed to do. For 21/2 years she worked with VISTA volunteers, trying to alleviate the rampant poverty in the community.

Then one day, a VISTA worker guided her to the front of a community group, introduced her as the chairperson for the meeting, and then sat down. ''And from that day to this, my mouth ain't been shut,'' says Mrs. Cole, sitting near the coal stove that heats her spare, simple living room in Barwick.

''When I started to work with these families it was terribly bad,'' she recalls. Some people went hungry. Young families would come back and try to live on welfare checks. Mothers used sweaters for their babies' diapers.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

There are many Barwicks in eastern Kentucky. While the coal boom has brought prosperity to some, it has created a dual economy that has left other communities even farther behind. Mike Maloney, of the Cincinnati-based Appalachian People's Service Organization, calls it ''the coal and the dole.'' Barwick - with 11 people employed full-time out of a population of 590 - is clearly on the dole.

But in nearby Hardshell, Victor Jones has profited from coal.

He owns a coal truck and pays a full-time driver so he can continue as principal of the Caney School.

''I pay my truck driver more for four days a week than I earn as a principal ($28,000 for 11 months a year),'' he says. And ''I've paid more in income tax than I've made teaching.''

The dual economy is not limited to communities. One of Mr. Jones's teachers makes less than a fifth of what the teacher's cousin earned last year working a front-end loader for a coal company.

The handsome wages of Falcon Coal Company, the largest employer in the county , has helped to create new prosperity and new jobs, says Troy R. Eslinger, president of Lees College, a two-year school in Jackson. On the other hand, ''they make it very difficult for us to demonstrate the value of a college education.

Everytime Falcon announced a wage increase, Mrs. Cole says, it seemed the grocery stores jacked up their prices. Still, because of her efforts, Barwick has made progress. In the past decade residents have helped build 40 homes and a community center, and cultivated a garden that helps feed 75 families.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...