Appalachia is a cultural region in the eastern United States that begins in southern New York and stretches south to northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Appalachia is known for its beautiful mountains, forests, and rivers. It is also known for its coal mines, moonshine, hillbillies, and poverty. What most people do not know is that, according to the 2010 census, the percentage of residents age 65 or older is higher in Appalachia than that of any other region in the nation. Young adults are leaving the area in record numbers while the older population are staying put. Appalachia has the highest poverty rate for residents 65 years of age or older. Appalachia also has the highest rate of disabled elderly in the nation. In the United States the region that contains the highest percentage of poor and broken seniors is Appalachia.

In 2010, sixteen percent of Appalachians were 65 years of age or older. The rest of the nation’s population of people 65 years of age or older was at thirteen percent. According to Lee, “The major reason for the difference in age structure between the Appalachian population and that of the United States as a whole is the net out-migration of young adults from Appalachia to other parts of the country, and Appalachia’s relatively low share of immigrants from other countries (Lee, 2002).“ According to the 2010 census, Appalachia is the poorest region in the United States and has the highest percentage of unemployed residents. With the high percentage of people living in poverty and the limited number of jobs for its residents, it should come as no surprise that it is difficult to make a living in Appalachia. Coal mining and harvesting lumber provided many residents, who had little or no education, employment that provided enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table. However, today with environmental restrictions and the mechanization of those industries there are only a fraction of the jobs available. Many young adults did not want to struggle as their parents did and made the decision to leave the area and move to an area with more employment opportunities. According to Serow, “Some Appalachian counties, in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northeastern Georgia, have gained elderly population through retirement migration… These counties tended to be prosperous for the region, with recreational amenities and locations convenient to metropolitan areas.(Serow, 2001).” This in-migration of elderly residents combined with the out-migration of the young adults has contributed to Appalachia having the highest percentage of residents 65 years of age or older.

According to the 2010 Census, Appalachia had the highest poverty rates for residents 65 years of age or older. The national average was twelve percent for women 65 or older, seven percent for men 65 or older, sixteen percent for women 85 or older, and ten percent for men 85 or older. The average for the residents of Appalachia was twenty-one percent for women 65 or older, nineteen percent for men 65 or older, twenty-seven percent for women 85 or older, and thirty-two percent for men 85 or older. It is unclear why the percentage of elderly residents living in poverty is higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the United States. Haaga believes that part of the reason for this trend is the rising number of elderly people living alone in the region and that this is due to the out-migration of their children that would normally be taking care of them (Haaga, 2004). According to the 2010 Census, older people living alone were more likely to be in poverty than those living with a spouse, children, or others. Nationally, one in five elderly women who were living alone were in poverty. However, one in three elderly women who were living alone in Appalachia were in poverty.

According to the 2010 Census, forty-four percent of all Americans 65 years of age or older reported that they had one or more disabilities. With the residents of Appalachia that number increases to sixty-two percent. In Appalachia, twenty-two percent of the elderly these included mobility limitations and for twelve percent limited ability to take care of oneself including eating and bathing. Elderly Appalachian residents living alone reported having even higher rates of disabilities than those living with family or friends. Appalachia also has a higher percentage of elderly residents living alone than the national average. This may be due to the out-migration of young adults.

Appalachia not only has the highest percentage of residents 65 years of age or older, but those residents are on average poorer and have more disabilities. With the high percentage of aging adults one might think that the residents of Appalachia must live longer. However, the sad truth is life expectancy is also the lowest in the nation. Growing old in Appalachia seems less appealing than it ever did before.

Works Cited

Haaga, John G. 2004. “The Aging of Appalachia.” PBR Reports on America. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Lee, Ronald D., and John G. Haaga. 2002. “Government Spending in an Older America.PBR Reports on America. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Serow, William J. 2001. “Retirement Migration Counties in the Southeastern United States: Geographic, Demographic, and Economic Correlates.” The Gerontologist 41:220-27

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010) Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/2010

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