Have You Seen America’s Hidden Third World?
When Americans imagine communities with dilapidated homes, barefoot children and starving adults, they might picture Third World countries. But over 23 million U.S. residents live in deep rural poverty.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson launched his War on Poverty from Appalachia, a 1,000-mile stretch that goes from southern New York to northeast Mississippi. Although some communities have seen improvement since the 1960s, the economic boom of the 1990s did little to improve living conditions.
Appalachian unemployment and earnings rates still fall below the national average. Some areas still lack water and plumbing systems. While Appalachians can often afford their own homes – coal companies built houses, then sold them cheaply when they moved into new areas – few people can afford their upkeep.
Americans Helping Americans (AHA), a nonprofit organization that runs several relief projects in Appalachia, reports seeing homes without adequate roofs, walls and floors.
People moved into Appalachia when the coal mining industry thrived, but most coal mines have since moved West. Only 2 percent of Appalachia’s workforce still mines, and they face job-related health risks. Most people work in low-paid, unskilled sectors, where salaries cannot support living costs.
For children, rural poverty proves especially heartbreaking. Many Appalachian children grow up without adequate food, shelter or healthcare – one in five Appalachian children grow up in poverty. And few doctors work in Appalachia, few residents have insurance or the means to pay medical fees. Simple toys prove beyond many families’ means – paying for home repairs or dental visits seems impossible.
For Appalachian children, simple donations, from teddy bears and blankets to school supplies and Christmas dinners, help encourage confidence and personal pride. AHA’s Bare Feet Program takes children to stores, where they can choose and buy their own shoes, just like any other child.
AHA also helps supply food and blankets, utilities and home repairs to struggling Appalachian families. Appalachians suffer a poorer standard of living than most Americans, but relief work can help families emerge from the nation’s hidden Third World. For more information, visit www.helpingamericans.org.