I saw this map online and it makes clear how much Highland County (one of the red counties), and many of its neighbors, have been overlooked by both government, industry, and business. We are among the poorest counties in the state and we are among the most solidly conservative and Republican. We desperately need change but we refuse to accept change. We are the victims of poor and expensive health care, we are the victims of poor jobs, low wages, and few fringe benefits. We have little to no systems for
affordable public transportation, We are the victims of the types of crimes that are most associated with poverty. We are the victims of marginal Internet speeds and the lack of cutting edge technology. We are the last to experience financial good times and the first to suffer when things go bad. Historically our schools have had to rely on state aid and they have increasingly come under state supervision. Our income levels are barely above minimum wage and even the best manufacturing jobs, of which there are few, start out around $12 an hour and top out at not much more. Given that, we remain one of the most anti-union areas of the state. Our population is aging and shrinking as young people have fewer reasons to remain. Big box stores, discount dollar stores, and online marketing have turned hour business districts into empty hollow and decaying storefronts. While many of us like to see ourselves as strong self-reliant types we are in reality some of the largest consumers of public support programs in the nation. For decades well over 60% of our children qualify for free or reduced school lunches.
One can continue looking and compiling statistics that reinforce what I’ve been saying, that Highland County, Ohio isn’t doing all that well in an economy that our current leader says is the best in history. Yeah, unemployment may be down and the stock market up but, that’s not enough to change the day to day realities in the many entrenched pockets of poverty in America.
And as bad as things really are in our area they are much worse elsewhere. What most have in common besides poverty is a fierce reluctance to change the politics of their thinking and voting. We have over fifty years of overwhelming evidence that conservative Republican politics has not, and never, will turn its attention towards serving the centers of American poverty.
Back in the 1960s a Republican governor, James Rhodes, saw to the construction of the Appalachian Highway (Route 32) that cut through the heart of Ohio’s poorest counties. The goal was to provide a transportation network that would open this area up for economic development and help break the cycle of poverty. In all the years since the road has mostly been a failure. While Rhoades was trying to bring industry to Appalachia, other captains of industry were looking overseas for cheap labor and that’s where the real money eventually landed. The people of Peebles can get to East Gate Mall quicker now but you still won’t find many jobs along Route 32 that pay $30 an hour.
The Highland Counties of America are doomed to their own refusal to admit to the causes of their conditions and to break with those things that are responsible for them. I’m a political junkie and to me it is clear. Conservative politics by whatever name does not result in growth and change. As long as a Republican politician can avoid us while knowing the majority of us with continue to support them, nothing is going to change.