A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ron Daley: Eastern Kentucky is one of the best places to live and certainly not the worst

There is much more to the quality of life in your community than the determinations by socio-economic data such as 24/7 Wall St and other news outlets use describing the worst places to live in America.

Two of the counties I have lived in eastern Kentucky were among the top “Worst Counties to Live In” by Evan Comen from the 24/7 Wall St released on March 10 and published on MSN. Knott County, where my family and I lived 30 years is listed as the 41st worst county in the nation to live and Perry County where I have lived 13 years, is 31st.

The author pointed out that “Knott County is one of 15 counties in Kentucky to rank among the worst places to live. Places with low educational attainment rates are often poor, and Knott County — where just 71.7% of adults have completed high school — is no exception. The typical household in the county earns just $28,165 a year, or $27,200 less than the typical American household.” The author could have noted that Knott is the hone of the historic Alice Lloyd College and the oldest rural settlement school in the nation, The Hindman Settlement School. The county boasts the home of the Knott County Branch of Hazard Community and Technical College.

I presently live in Perry County in which the author stated, “Like much of Eastern Kentucky, the county suffered heavy population decline as America’s coal industry declined throughout the mid-20th century. Other than a small period of increase in the 1970s, the county’s population has fallen continuously since its peak in 1940, from 47,828 to 27,818 today.

“One factor hindering the county’s economic recovery may be the area’s low educational attainment. A large share of college-educated adults can help attract advanced, high-paying industries to an area, and college graduates earn $22,000 more than high school graduates on average. Just 14.0% of Perry County adults have a bachelor’s degree, less than half the 30.3% national share.”

The Perry County facts are true, however, it could be noted in the education field, it is the home of Hazard Community and Technical College and the University Center of the Mountains, an innovative consortium which had help award more than 2,000 bachelor and master degrees. Perry and Knott County institutions have awarded thousands of advanced degrees. However, like in the rest of rural America, their educated citizens move where they can obtain work. The global economy and technology are creating opportunities for the educated youth to stay at home and create their own jobs or work remotely.

So why do I live in an area which is described as one the worse places to live? The people are the greatest. I have always lived in rural small towns and I love it. I love the beauty of the mountains. I have a great job witnessing the unbelievable work going on in the classrooms which gives me the assurance our next generation will advance the region economically and socially.

I have found mountain people the most loving and greatest neighbors than any places I have been. I grew up in Texas and New Mexico before finishing high school in Kentucky. When my first wife battled cancer for six years, my parents who had lived more places than I, noted they had not seen more love given to a family during her illness. I witnessed the same type mountain love when my second wife passed in 2010.

In the midst of our economic challenges, there is a renaissance going on in Appalachian Kentucky. The renaissance is originating and reverberating in our schools which are doing some things not going on in the rest of America. I am amazed when I interact with the students, teachers and educational leaders in the 22 school districts we serve in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative. The teachers of the mentor of the New Economy workforce and the students are embracing a spirit of both entrepreneurship and optimism.

I’m hopeful for our region. I am thankful for the people of eastern Kentucky for helpful me and my family.

Yes, because we have the similar type economic, and educational indicators as rural America (90 percent of poverty counties in America are rural), some list eastern Kentucky as one of the worse places to live. I contend it is one of the best places to live.

Ron Daley is the strategic partner lead for the KY Valley Educational Cooperative, a consortium of 21 school districts located in 16 counties in southeastern Kentucky.

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