Saturday, October 7, 2017

Part V of the Washington Post's series on disability and rurality: a focus on the informal economy

The latest in Terrence McCoy's series in the Washington Post about disability as a rural phenomenon appeared yesterday.  Here's one of the most salient excerpts from a story about Donna Jean Dempsey and her brother Bobby, in Mallory, West Virginia (population 1,654), in Logan County:
And where [Donna Jean and Bobby] were going was deep into the underground American economy, where researchers know some people receiving disability benefits are forced to work illegally after the checks are spent — because they can’t hold a regular job, because no one will hire them, because disability payments on average amount to less than minimum wage, sometimes much less, and because it’s hard to live on so little.
The underground economy has long been a part of rural America, but it has become vital in counties such as this one, deprived of the once-dominant coal industry and redefined by a decades-long swell in the nation’s disability rolls that, in its aftermath, has left more than 1 in 5 working-age residents in Logan County on Social Security Disability Insurance, which serves disabled workers, or Supplemental Security Income for the disabled poor.
Here's another excerpt that provides context for the Dempseys' "place" in that community:
Five miles below, in the hollow of Mallory, is a thin road lined with junk cars and mobile homes, several of which belong to Dempsey family members, who have lived here longer than nearly anyone, through everything that has happened. Seven of the 13 children died. The family house burned down. And Donna Jean, the eighth child, underwent one misfortune after another: rape survivor at 12, mother and illiterate dropout at 13, and, after years in special education, disability beneficiary at 22, the exact reason for which she can’t recall but summarizes as, “I’m not that smart, buddy. Kids made fun of me.”
The "everything that has happened" presumably refers, at least in part, to a 1972 coal slurry dam break here.  It is often referred to as the Buffalo Creek Flood, and it killed 125.

Separately, I see, on his Twitter feed, McCoy writes that Logan County is like no other place he has ever visited.

I see that Logan County, West Virginia's 15th largest county in population, is a persistent child poverty county, though not a persistent (general) poverty county.

The entire story is well worth a read, along with others in McCoy's series (the most recent, set in Roanoke, Alabama, is here).  I blogged about another story in this disability series here, and another here

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