“If you got a job here in Beattyville, you’re lucky,” says Amber Hayes, a bubbly 25-year-old mom of two, who also voted for Trump. She works at the county courthouse, but is paid by the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP), a form of welfare.
Coal, oil and tobacco made Beattyville a boom town in the 1800s and much of the 1900s. Locals like to bring up the fact that Lee County — where Beattyville is located — was the No. 1 oil-producing county east of the Mississippi at one time.
“Growing up in the ’70s? Yeah, this was the place to be,” says Chuck Caudhill, the general manager of the local paper, The Beattyville Enterprise. He calls the town the “gem of eastern Kentucky.”
Today, the town is a ghost of its former self. The vast majority of Beattyville residents get some form of government aid — 57% of households receive food stamps and 58% get disability payments from Social Security.
“I hope [Trump] don’t take the benefits away, but at the same time, I think that once more jobs come in a lot of people won’t need the benefits,” says Hayes, who currently receives about $500 a month from government assistance. She’s also on Obamacare.
The coal and oil jobs are almost all gone, but already there’s buzz Trump is reviving the industry.
Donna Coomer is the manager of a busy Valero gas station in the heart of Beattyville. She knows the names of most people who come in and makes small-town chatter with folks. Mere days after Trump’s inauguration, she heard coal trucks were rumbling again.
“Someone told me this morning that in eastern Kentucky the coal trucks are already out and about,” Coomer told CNNMoney, beaming. She voted for Obama but feels he was just a good talker who did little for Kentucky. Trump got her vote this time. She’s praying for the new president.
It will be hard for Trump to revive the coal jobs, even if he does scale back environmental regulations on the industry. Top coal executive Robert Murray recently told CNNMoney coal employment “can’t be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama.”
After the energy jobs evaporated, Beattyville was kept alive by a private prison and a clothing factory, Lion Apparel, that made firefighter suits. Then those jobs went away during President Obama’s tenure.
All that’s left are a few grocery stores, gas stations and small businesses. And drugs.
This story can be found all over Saskatchewan but the difference is that we don’t blame the federal government for the decline of small town Saskatchewan. People have moved to larger centres where the economy is stronger because they know things have changed. Farms have gotten larger, the rail lines have been abandoned and the elevators are gone. Those who decided to stay either have to a way to figure out to make it work with jobs or business that people will drive for or have to move to larger towns that are able to support a local economy.
I found it interesting that over half of the town is on food stamps. Basically Kentucky is subsidizing these towns. It may seem cruel but the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services has often told people that they will not support you in places where there are no jobs and little hope of getting one.
Sadly, Trump is playing these people for fools. The decline in coal came from natural gas being cheaper. It’s not Obama that has hurt them, it’s the market and unless Trump is going to subsidize the price of coal, things aren’t going to get better. Even coal execs are saying, “these jobs aren’t coming back”. So instead of moving on, they stay and suffer.
There are some economists who feel that the North American value of home ownership traps people into staying in locations long after they should have gone elsewhere for jobs. It provides more stability for towns and governments but hurts those that have no work.