National Review has an actually interesting report by Kevin Williamson on the state of Appalachia, providing a valuable portrait of the region’s woes — plus an account of how people turn food stamps fungible by converting them into soda. But the piece also has a moral: the big problem, it argues, is the way government aid creates dependency. It’s the Paul Ryan notion of the safety net as a “hammock” that makes life too easy for the poor.
But do the facts about Appalachia actually support this view? No, they don’t. Indeed, even the facts presented in the article don’t support it.
Williamson dismisses suggestions that economic factors might be driving social collapse:
If you go looking for the catastrophe that laid this area low, you’ll eventually discover a terrifying story: Nothing happened.
But he almost immediately contradicts himself, noting that employment in eastern Kentucky has fallen with the decline of coal and what little manufacturing the area once had. True, there was no sudden moment when the town’s main employer closed up shop; it was a gradual process. But so what? The underlying story of Appalachia is in fact one of declining opportunity. Here’s the unemployment rate for Owsley county:
Is it any surprise that people have turned to food stamps?
Reminder: the vast majority of Americans who recieve SNAP benefits and unemployment benefits, like nearly all forms of social assistance, are white. It's folks in places like Owsley County who are poor, not just "inner city Detroit" and whatnot.
But hey, FOX News convinces folks to vote against this stuff, then blame "those people" when things keep getting worse.