Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bad to Be on the Bottom

An item from today's Lexington Herald-Leader:
residents of [Kentucky's] 5th Congressional District have the shortest average life expectancy of those of any congressional district in the country.
My home of Morehead is in Kentucky's 5th Congressional district and it's easy to see where it's true. It's very difficult to tell the age of a lot of people I meet or people I see in Walmart. Even people in their 20's can have a broken down look that makes you wonder if they're in their forties or fifties. Likewise, Mrs. RSI and I have met women in their early forties who see themselves as more elderly than my 73 year old mother and dress accordingly.

The Herald-Leader implies that Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers bear considerable responsibility for the pervasive poverty that results in low life expectancies. They're not totally wrong. As Republicans, McConnell and Rogers are attached to the small government perspective that results in fewer federal programs and less federal money coming into the region. There isn't that much private investment in the region. So, the lack of federal money really hurts.

But, it is also fair to note that Hal Rogers has been active on economic development issues during his tenure in Congress. The Forward in the Fifth program, Center for Rural Development, Pride Program, and Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association (SEKTDA) have all been worthy efforts even though they haven't resulted in structural economic change.

3 comments:

Todd said...

It's true. I am a resident of the
5th district and the lives of people here are drained. We are tired. Coal has been the center of our economy here to the exclusion of everything else. We have been conditioned to accept low expectations from each other and from society as a whole. Moutaintop removal scars the landscape and wreaks havoc on the local environment. Without trees and forests, rain runs freely and unimpeded causing floods in places where no floods ocurred before. It is a deadening environment. The older people here become, the less likely one can determine what age group one is looking upon.
You said, "Even people in their 20's can have a broken down look that makes you wonder if they're in their forties or fifties." Followed by this, "Likewise, Mrs. RSI and I have met women in their early forties who see themselves as more elderly than my 73 year old mother and dress accordingly." I am 39 years old and though I have done little with my life I am drained, resigned, 100 LBS overweight with nothing to which I can look forward. I imagine I have taken on that "old-before-his-time" appearance. My demeanor, so I am told, is that of resignation. I imagine the same holds true for my fellow eastern kentuckians. They DO look old. Our lifestyles are very sedentary. Most of us sit, for hours and hours. We get up in the morning, we take our showers, dress, sit down in front of a TV or a computer monitor, we eat, we take the myriad prescriptions for madadies contracted far too early in life due to too much fatty, carb-loaded fast food or "home-cooking" which though delicious, is dead;y if one makes of it a steady diet. Some work, many do not. Days are spent either at some dead-end job, or no job at all. People eat, watch television, surf the internet, sleep too much and it shows on our bodies and in our trivial conversation. Our minds become deadened. We lose our curiosity to the din of "Wife-Swap" and other "reality" TV, and whatever we can find on the 'net to kill time.
You quoted the Lexington Herald Leader thus: "...Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers bear considerable responsibility for the pervasive poverty that results in low life expectancies." You said, "As Republicans, McConnell and Rogers are attached to the small government perspective that results in fewer federal programs and less federal money coming into the region. There isn't that much private investment in the region. So, the lack of federal money really hurts." How true. We are not a priority and we know that. Knowing that and knowing that things will remain so creates resignation in our attitude toward life. We move like elderly people when we are only in our thirties, fourties, or fifties. We walk slowly, kind of shuffling along. Even our speech patterns are affected. We don't project our voices. We mumble in a slow nasally way which betrays our utter sense of resignation that we are as good as we'll ever be. The worst part; we're okay with that. We take on a broken down physical appearance because psychologically, we've been broken down day-by-day; month-by-month; year by year since our peak, usually high school. We might be sad but for the most part we are past feeling. Either comfortably numb, or just numb, we look forward to nothing because we know that nothing is on the horizion but more of the same.
So yes, we need and influx of federal dollars here to boost the economy and with any luck in the process perhaps give us a good jolt out of our zombie-like existence. It's worth a try.
Good call Ric.

Ric Caric said...

Thanks for the comment Tod. Despite being extremely sad to read, it was helpful and informative. In relation to your situation, you might think about identifying one forward step you can take and start working on that.

Todd Mayo said...

You're quite welcome. It happened that I read your comments on a day when these facts were very much in the forefront of my mind. I suspect that many, maybe most people of all ages who've lived here all their lives would take offense at my remarks. Perhaps all the more so because deep down they feel the same but would not care to explore those feelings. Perhaps some believe that people everywhere experience this type of thing. I don't know if this is the behavior I projected when I was at Morehead. I recall being the source of great irritation to some of my conservative classmates. It was fun. I think the reading and the dialogue energized me in the moment. I even managed to score a victory in a public debate about the future of Social Security. Then, I came home. Discussion ceased. And now here I am. I would imagine I am not the only person to come from here to academia, do well, then come home...and begin to atrophy again.
I appreciate the concern as well. I believe your recommendation to be an accurate one. The trick of course will be to take one forward step (as I have on rare occaisions), but avoid the dreaded "two steps back". I appreciate the opportunity to be heard on this issue. Those of us who have been here our entire lives are rarely aware of this situation unless we are able to see us as someone who did not grow up here sees us. Good people, but very resigned to obscurity and while not stupid or incapable of learning and truly "LIVING", have unconciously decided, "I give up." So your council is sound. Focus and move forward..again. Thanks Ric