Clay County, Kentucky: What the coal industry left behind

While the collapse of the coal industry has upended lives throughout eastern Kentucky, it’s been particularly painful here in Clay County, which, according to the New York Times, “just might be the hardest place to live in the United States,” on account of its high unemployment, meager household incomes, and short life expectancies. It’s one of the poorest counties in the nation.
Although tiny Clay County, population 21,000, was never a coal-mining mecca like nearby Harlan or Pike Counties, the industry long served as its economic backbone, employing an average of more than 1,500 mine workers annually from 1975 to 1990. But by 2013 — thanks to competition from cleaner-burning natural gas and tighter federal regulations — there was an average of only 56 mine workers still employed in the area. Today, this proud community in the Appalachian foothills is mired in poverty, low education and drugs.
“There’s nothing here,” says Chad Thompson, the head of a local substance abuse program. “Coal was it, man.”

(Photographs by Chris Usher for Yahoo News)

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