What Ails Appalachia?

Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

(Skip to: Part 2, Part 3.)

Appalachia is a lovely geographic region of low mountains stretching from southern NY state to northeastern Mississippi; as a cultural region, “Greater Appalachia” includes all of West Virginia and Kentucky; almost all of Tennessee and Indiana; large chunks of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia; small parts of nearby states like Alabama and Pennsylvania; and a few counties in the northwest Florida (not on the map.) (The lack of correspondence between state boundaries and Appalachia’s boundaries makes most state-level aggregated data useless and forces me to use county level data whenever possible.)

While generally considered part of “the South,” Appalachia is culturally and ethnically distinct from the “Deep South,” generally opposed secession (West Virginia seceded from Virginia following Virginia’s secession from the Union in order to return to the Union,) and never had an economy based on large, slave-owning plantations.

Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)
Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)

Appalachia is also one of the US’s persistent areas of concentrated poverty (the others are the highly black regions of the Deep South and their migrant diaspora in northern inner-cities; the Mexican region along the Texas border; and Indian reservations.) Almost 100% of the nation’s poorest counties are located in these areas; indeed, the Southern states + New Mexico as a whole are significantly poorer than the Northern ones.

First a note, though, on poverty:

There is obviously a great difference between the “poverty” of someone who chooses a low-income lifestyle in a rural part of the country because they enjoy it and are happy trading off money for pleasure, and someone who struggles to stay employed at crappy, demeaning jobs, cannot make rent, and is miserable. Farming tends not to pay as well as finance, but I don’t think anyone would be better off if all of the farmers parked their tractors and took up finance. Farmers seem pretty happy with their lives and contribute to the nation’s well-being by producing food. By contrast, I’ve yet to talk to anyone employed in fast food who enjoyed their job or wanted to stay in the industry; if they could trade for a job in finance, they’d probably take it.

6398967_origUnfortunately, Appalachia (and parts of the Deep South) appear to be the most depressed states in the country. (No data for KY and NC, but I bet they match their neighbors.) Given that depression rates tend to be higher for whites than for blacks, I suspect the effect is concentrated among Southern whites, but I wouldn’t be surprised if black people in Mississippi are depressed, too.

Of course, depression itself may just be genetic, and the Scandinavian ancestors of the northern mid-west may have gifted their descendants with a uniquely chipper outlook on life, except that Scandinavians have pretty high suicide rates.

US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates

(Note also that Appalachia has higher suicide rates than the black regions of the Deep South, the Hispanic El Norte, and white regions in NY.)

This high suicide rate may have something to do with, as Steve Sailer has taken to calling it, “The White Death.” As Gelman has noted, death rates have been increasing for middle aged white women, in contrast to virtually everyone else.

The white death rate is highest in Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina, with the greatest increases in death rates in West Virginia and Mississippi.

White-Death-by-State2I have assembled a list of articles and a few quotes discussing the increasing white death rates:

The White Death, Death Rates Up among 25-34 year old Whites, Too, Why are White Women Dying Young? Death Rate Still Rising for Middle Aged White Women, Why are White Death Rates Rising? The White Death:

“When I looked into the dataset that Case and Deaton used (https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/correlates-of-middle-aged-white-mortality/ ) and mixed it with Census Data, it appeared that there were three main predictors of county-level death rates for middle aged whites:
1) Median income
2) Obesity
3) SSI-Disability …”  — Spotted Toad

White Death Deaton vs. Gelman, Why are White Women Dying Young?  The White Death and the Black Death:

“I hang out in WV fracking country from time to time. The local community college had a 1 year program to learn how to become a “tool handler” (or something). Get your certificate, and go straight to work making $50k / year – good money is a crummy economy. The program was under-subscribed because the majority of the applicants failed the drug test.” — Jim Don Bob

NY Times: How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across America, Why are so many Middle Aged Whites Dying? Why did Middle Aged White Death Rates increase from 1998 through 2013? Why is Pennsylvania Outpacing Virginia and Ohio?

“… SSDI (“disability”) culture has been deeply entrenched in West Virginia for decades, particularly in the southern coal counties where work-related injuries have historically been common…” — Chip Smith

But we will get back to death rates later. For now, given high rates of poverty, depression, suicide, and rising death rates, I’m willing to say that Appalachia sounds like it is in distress. Yes, it’s probably a drugs and obesity problem; the question is why?

The generally accepted explanation in HBD circles for Appalachian poverty is IQ–“West Virginia has an average IQ of 98”–and the personalities of its Scotch-Irish founding population. I find this inadequate. For starters, West Virginia’s average IQ of 98.7 is slightly higher than the national average. And yet West Virginia is the second poorest state in the country, with a per capita GDP of only $30,389 (in 2012 dollars.) (Only Mississippi is poorer, and Mississippi has the lowest IQ in the country.)

If IQ were the whole story, West Virginians would be making about $42,784 a year, the national average.

For that matter, Canada’s IQ is 97, Norway, Austria, Denmark, and France has IQs of 98, and Poland and Hungary are up at 99. Their respective per cap GDPs (in 2014 $s, unfortunately): $44,057, 64,856, 46,223, 44,916, 38,848, 24,745, 24,721 (but Poland and Hungary are former Soviet countries whose economies are believed to have been retarded by years of Communism.)

So IQ does not explain Appalachian poverty. But it is getting late, so I will have to continue this tomorrow.

(Head on over to: Part 2, Part 3.)

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6 thoughts on “What Ails Appalachia?

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