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Jackson Says Appalachia Left Behind

April 28, 1998

ATHENS, Ohio (AP) _ Welcome to Appalachia, where rusting cars can be found in front yards, broken appliances can be seen on front porches and untreated sewage sometimes runs through a neighborhood.

It is the kind of area where good jobs are hard to come by and the poverty rate was the twice the state average in 1995 _ the kind of place the Rev. Jesse Jackson wants the American people to see.

Jackson, who concluded a two-day visit to the area Monday with a tour of the Appalachian foothills, said the region has been left behind as the stock market continues to soar and most of the country continues to prosper.

``On one hand, there is a sense of surrender that nothing can be done,″ he said of the people he saw. ``But in their lips and in their hearts, there is hope.″

The poverty rate in Athens County was above 30 percent in 1995, more than twice the state average of 15 percent. Among 3- and 4-year-old children, the poverty rate topped 40 percent.

``We’ve been shunned. We try to get out and get something better and there’s nothing better to do,″ said Dave Smith, 50, a Vietnam veteran who helps at a furniture store.

``The jobs don’t pay enough to live on,″ said Kathryn Lad, 48, director of the Appalachian Peoples Action Coalition, which runs the store.

Jackson talked of ``the class gap″ _ the widening socioeconomic difference between the rich and the poor in the United States.

Jackson’s visit has been viewed as an attempt to gauge his appeal for a possible presidential bid for 2000.

During a breakfast meeting with student leaders from Ohio University, Jackson said the gap between rich and poor is larger than the one between blacks and whites.

Race and gender discrimination are illegal, but there are no laws governing the class gap, which leaves some people in houses without running water and without access to proper health care or a good education, Jackson said.

``We see a wider gap between those of privilege and power and those who don’t have the essentials of life,″ he said after the breakfast.

On Monday evening, Jackson spoke to about 4,200 people at the Ohio University Convocation Center, reiterating his theme of bridging the gap between the well-to-do and the poverty-stricken.

Jackson called on Congress to spend the anticipated federal budget surplus on programs for the poor and to develop a comprehensive plan to provide health-care coverage to all Americans.

``We will stand together,″ he said. ``We want to reframe the national debate.″

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