Kentucky is a hard place to live

July 11th, 2014

Many of the counties in Eastern Kentucky don't rank high for economic growth and overall well-being.

The Great Recession put a strain on many Americans, and a number of areas are still recovering from the economic downturn.

While numerous regions have a ways to go before they’re back to normal economic activity, some areas have been suffering for a while. The New York Times recently reported that Eastern Kentucky, specifically Clay County, is the hardest place to live in the country in regard to health and wealth. Six data points – median household, unemployment rate, percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree, disability rate, obesity rate and life expectancy – were used to arrive at this conclusion.

On the top 10 list for hardest places to live in the U.S., Clay County was accompanied by five other counties situated in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky: Breathitt, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin counties. The remaining four were in the rural South and included Lee County, Arkansas; Jefferson County, Georgia; East Carroll Parish, Louisiana; and Humphreys County, Mississippi.

What’s wrong with Eastern Kentucky?
The Times parsed the data in several ways, and the Kentucky region consistently was at or around the top of the list for hardest place to live in the country. In regard to disability specifically, four counties in the area had more than 10 percent of residents receiving benefits. The results weren’t any more favorable when removing this or any of the other metrics with the exception of education.

According to CBS Money Watch, Kentucky’s troubles are far reaching into history. Half a century ago, the state was the poster child for President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The news source went on to say that the data points to the extent of rural poverty, which tends to noticeably outpace urban poverty.

Where are Americans doing well?
The Times report wasn’t all bad news. Many counties across the country are full of healthy and wealthy individuals. Six of the top 10 best locations were suburbs of Washington D.C., specifically those on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. Los Alamos County, New Mexico, topped the list. It is the home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is the leading location for scientific work related to U.S. nuclear munitions and employs one out of every five residents in the county. The median income is $106,426, and 63.2 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree.