President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964
Life is harsh in Twin Branch, W. Va. Despite the wide availability of food stamps, government-subsidized health care and school lunches, life is very difficult for most of the people living there. The War on Poverty, instituted by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago, brought a lot of help to this area of the U.S., yet life is no better now, and indeed for many, worse than before that “War.”
Trip Gabriel at The New York Times takes a look at the bleak economic landscape here. Despite all the government subsidies, this place is sad.
McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity. But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line — 15 percent of the population — it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on.
Much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect. In many places, little seems to have been built or maintained in decades.
Numbers tell the tale as vividly as the scarred landscape. Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives, said Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission.