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Kentucky editorial roundup

May 1, 2019

Summary of recent newspaper editorials:

April 27

The Richmond Register on child abuse:

Kentucky children continue to be hurt at an alarming rate, and it’s a problem that seems to only be getting worse.

The Bluegrass State now has the highest abuse rate in the nation — up from being the second highest last year — according to the HHS Children’s Bureau “Child Maltreatment 2017” report. The report stated that out of 1,000 children in Kentucky, statistically, 22 of them will be victims of abuse and neglect. The rate is more than double the national average.

Kentucky reported more than 22,000 victims, 2,000 more than last year’s report. In Madison County during 2018, there were 526 children who were abused and neglected, according to Victoria Benge, executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Madison County.

“This is an issue in our state and in our county, and we all need to work together to prevent this and help the next generation be the best they can be,” Benge told The Register.

She’s right. We have to work together to protect the next generation, or this cycle of abuse may never stop.

Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level. In most cases, it isn’t one single circumstance that leads to abuse.

Typically, it’s a combination of factors that cause high stress levels in the family, which could include a lack of education, money troubles or a variety of other stressors. Drug abuse is a big determinant, and most cases in family court involve drugs.

However, the problems don’t stop or start there.

Budget cuts have put a strain on the system put in place to protect our most vulnerable. Strain on social workers has resulted in much turnover.

Yet, we as a community can help.

In fact, anyone in Kentucky who suspects a child is being abused is required to report it by law. In cases where people are suspicious but aren’t sure, make the call.

There are numerous organizations that can help both children and parents.

CASA uses community trained volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children within the family court system. The organization’s main goal is to break the cycle of abuse. In Madison County, we’re fortunate to have this organization advocating for our children.

Another that is instrumental in the fight against child abuse and neglect is the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). The social workers with CHFS investigate claims of abuse and neglect and make referrals on the best course of action for the affected children.

County attorney’s offices prosecute those accused of abuse or neglect.

The HANDS program through the Madison County Health Department is another resource for families of young children. HANDS is a home visitation program that assists parents during their child’s first two years of life.

For those parents who need help, reach out. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.

While April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, we must work on this problem every day, every month. We need to see those numbers decrease. We need to protect the innocent as they are our future.

To report suspected child abuse in Kentucky, call 877-KY-SAFE1 (597-2331). The national abuse hotline can be reached at 800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453).

Online: www.richmondregister.com

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April 26

The Daily Independent on Kentucky’s strong unemployment numbers:

There’s quite a bit of good news these days when it comes to the Commonwealth’s unemployment numbers.

The latest statistics from the state regarding unemployment are out, and they are most certainly very positive all things considered. We view them as very positive, in fact, when considering history and the bigger economic picture.

We looked at the numbers across the region — from the Gateway to Fivco regions. In the Gateway region, in Rowan County, the final unemployment rate for 2018 was listed at 5.2 percent. This is an improvement from 5.8 percent in 2017. In Bath County it dropped from 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent. In Menifee County it dropped from 8.8 percent to 7.6 percent. In Montgomery County it dropped from 6.7 percent to 6 percent. And, in Morgan County it dropped from 7.4 percent to 6.3 percent. The monthly stats for 2019 as of February show a slight uptick in the numbers for the counties but they appear to be pretty minimal.

Here in the Fivco region unemployment decreased across the board from 2017 to 2018. In Boyd County it dropped from 7.2 percent to 5.9. In Carter County it dropped from 9.9 percent to 9.2 percent. In Elliott County it dropped from 10.7 percent to 9.3 percent. In Greenup it dropped from 7.7 percent to 6.6 percent. And, in Lawrence County, it dropped from 9.1 percent to 7.2 percent.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Always is. Do these statistics mean anything if you were recently laid off or are currently looking for a good paying job and haven’t had luck? Nope. However, they are indicative of improvement, and in rural counties across America, improvement is something to cherish when it comes to job numbers. They also indicate the obvious — that right now we have, generally speaking, a very strong economy in Kentucky.

Some caveats are in order. Our rural eastern counties still lag behind metropolitan areas in other parts of the state. Also, unemployment rates aren’t necessarily indicative of an individual’s circumstances. If you are employed, but paid minimum wage, life is still brutal.

The state said in a press release the trend in improvement of economic numbers is similar across Kentucky. Annual unemployment rates decreased in 117 Kentucky counties in 2018 compared to 2017. There were only two counties, in Monroe and Owen counties, where unemployment rose, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS), an agency within the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Here are some really remarkable numbers:?the jobless rate for Woodford County was the lowest in the Commonwealth in 2018 at 3.1 percent. That is a remarkably low number by any standard. It was followed by Campbell, Fayette, Oldham and Scott counties, 3.3 percent each; Boone and Kenton counties, 3.4 percent each; Shelby County, 3.5 percent; and Anderson, Jessamine and Spencer counties, 3.6 percent each. Those are astonishingly low statistics.

Magoffin County recorded the state’s highest annual unemployment rate in 2018 at 13.2 percent. It was followed by Elliott County, 9.3 percent; Carter County, 9.2 percent; Lewis County, 8.4 percent; Wolfe County, 7.7 percent; Menifee County, 7.6 percent; Harlan County, 7.4 percent; Breathitt County, 7.3 percent; Lawrence County, 7.2 percent; and Clay, Leslie and Owsley counties, 7.1 percent each. In 2018, Magoffin County had an annual rate at or above 10 percent compared to four (Magoffin, Elliott, Leslie and Harlan) counties in 2017.

The unadjusted annual state unemployment rate for the state was 4.3 percent for 2018, and 3.9 percent for the nation. The national unadjusted 2018 annual rate of 3.9 percent, 98 Kentucky counties had higher 2018 annual rates, while 17 were lower and five (Calloway, Henry, Logan, Madison and Simpson counties) matched it.

So what does all this mean from a bigger picture perspective? In our view it is a good time to be looking for a job in a tight labor market. If you have in-demand skills, it might be a good time to ask for a raise, especially if you have multiple offers. On the other end of the spectrum if you are an employer we suspect it is tough to find employees because they are probably already working somewhere else.

This, in our view, is a good problem to have because when the economy is strong the prospects of individual prosperity improve. When prosperity improves, so does quality of life.

Online: www.dailyindependent.com

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April 28

The Roanoke (Virginia) Times on Appalachia stereotypes:

Ron Howard is making a movie based on J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.”

This is not a good thing.

It will no doubt be a very well-done movie. Howard’s resume includes “Apollo 13,” ″The DaVinci Code” and being brought in to rescue “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” But it’s not a movie that is likely to be helpful to those of us in Appalachia.

Vance’s book certainly told truth — his personal truth about growing up in an unstable family in southern Ohio and seeing lots of people who simply decided not to work and take advantage of welfare instead. That’s undoubtedly true; we’d be fools to deny that those kind of things happen. But is that the whole truth about Appalachia?

Appalachia is so poorly-understood beyond its borders that it’s painfully easy to stereotype. We see that every time some out-of-town political candidate comes to Roanoke and starts talking about coal as if the mines were next door. Most of Appalachia — which culturally covers everything west of the Blue Ridge Mountains out to the foothills of Ohio — doesn’t even mine coal at all. Appalachia is a far more diverse region than people give it credit for, sometimes even the people who live in it. That’s where “Hillbilly Elegy” the movie is likely to be so damaging. If people outside the region see Vance’s book brought to life — the drug addicts, the welfare cheats, the layabouts —and think that’s an accurate depiction of all of Appalachia, it will just become yet another stereotype for a region that’s been stereotyped long enough. It’s as if you could only watch one movie about New York and what you saw was “American Gangster.” You’d form a very different impression of the city than if you watched, say, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The popularity of Vance’s book has prompted some literary rejoinders, pushing back against his depiction of the region. First came “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia” by Elizabeth Catte, a historian who lives in the Shenandoah Valley. More recently comes “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy,” a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. These rebuttals are all well and good, although they do tend to be a bit ideological. Catte is a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America, hardly typical in Appalachia, or anywhere else. The New York Times reviewed “Appalachian Reckoning” and found that “for every essay . . . that’s provocative, another is unreadable,” stuffed with academic language about ”“wider discursive contexts.”

—What Appalachia needs is not another book, but an entirely new story to tell about itself. In popular culture, if Appalachia gets depicted at all, it’s in a negative way. Think “Deliverance.” Or District 12 of “The Hunger Games.” Our fear is that the movie version of “Hillbilly Elegy” will simply add to those negative portrayals. Appalachia certainly has its problems, particularly in adapting to a new economy that puts a premium on things that the region doesn’t have — principally, a highly-educated workforce. Amazon chose to locate in Arlington, where 71 percent of the adults 25 and older have a college degree. In Buchanan County and Covington, that figure is 8.3 percent. The economics of the so-called “knowledge economy” are pretty cruel. Vance depicts an Appalachia peopled by lazy people who disdain education. “We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents. Our kids perform poorly in school,” he writes at one point. In another, he says: “You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.” Perhaps that’s so in some places, but there is another Appalachian story to be told — we just need a larger megaphone through which to tell it.

—Students in Southwest Virginia (the portion of Appalachia we care most about) don’t “perform poorly in school” as Vance writes. They perform quite well. The Virginia Department of Education divides the state into eight regions. In 2018, one region finished first in the state in the Standards of Learning testing in all three categories — reading, math and science. Was this Northern Virginia, the sons and daughters of the state’s most well-to-do and well-educated citizens? No. Northern Virginia finished second. Instead, the region that finished first was Southwest Virginia — from Pulaski County. And yet state officials in Richmond still dared to ask St. Paul attorney Frank Kilgore — a frequent booster for the region — whether Southwest Virginia “has the DNA to fill cybersecurity jobs.” That’s insulting, but typical.

—In 2015, Dickenson County merged its high schools into Ridgeview High School. What was the first team from Ridgeview to win a state championship? Not the football team, but the robotics team. That team went on to compete in the world championship in Detroit, in which it placed 9th out of 64 teams — and was a finalist for an award that honored enthusiasm. Vance might have known some lazy people growing up, but he sure didn’t know these kids.

—The Dickenson students weren’t even the only team from Southwest Virginia to go to the world championship last year, either. So did a team from Southwest Virginia Community College that included students from six different high schools in the region.

—Students in five Southwest localities — the counties of Wise, Russell, Washington, Bland and Norton — took part in NASA experiment that involved launching satellites into low-earth orbit.

—The American Wind Energy Association sponsors an annual contest where school teams compete to build functioning wind turbines. One school system has become — no pun intended — a powerhouse in this competition. Is this school system in Northern Virginia, which aspires to be Silicon Valley East? No, it’s Bath County, where last year, the team from Bath County High School took first place in the nation.

Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.

We don’t need an elegy; we just need a new economy — and a chance to tell the world a different story than the one Ron Howard and J.D. Vance will.

Online: www.roanoke.com