May 19th, 2008
06:31 PM ET

Not on the campaign trail: Kentucky's poorest county

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/19/art.obamashirts.jpg caption="Shirts with the likeness of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama offered for half price in a store window May 19, 2008 in Kentucky."]
Gary Tuchman
AC360° Correspondent

We've seen a lot of enthusiasm on the campaign trail this year from coast to coast. Cheering crowds, exuberant voters, an exciting race.

But we did not see any of that today in Clay County, Kentucky. The Appalachian county is the poorest in the state. It's per capita income is only about 9700 dollars a year. There is a strong feeling among people we talked to here today that it doesn't matter who is elected president; that the economy here will stay as rotten as it's been for more than a generation.

Unemployment here is very high; the mayor of Manchester, which is the county seat, says more than half the county residents are unemployed or underemployed. The sky high gas prices are debilitating. One young man told us he has no job, and now can't afford the gas to drive and find a job.

What we keep hearing over and over is that the White House might as well be on the moon; there is no faith here that any of the candidates can do anything to help poor communities like Clay County. Election officials here tell us they expect a low turnout tomorrow.

And after spending the day here, and seeing people who so desperately want to be out of the grinding wheels of poverty but can't escape it, I'm not so surprised about that.

Program note: Watch Gary Tuchman's report on tonight's AC360 at 10p ET.

Filed under: Raw Politics
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Beverly

    I did not see the piece but have seen enough of these stories to tell those folks they need to talk responsibility for themselves. If you live in a place with one industry we've heard enough horror stories of what happens when t companies move . The copmpany is loyal to the company not the employees and there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper. Perhaps while the dollars are flowing someone should have foregone the latest Air Jordan's for a computer class or some other valuable skill. The gov't response after Katrina should tell you not to expect them to do anything for you. My grandmother brought 5 daughters to the US from Trinidad to insure that they would receive a better education and would be able to do for self with or without a man & gov't handouts. If people can jump the border and be employed by the end of the week , I find it very hard to feel sorry for people would would rather complain about their circumstances rather than change them.

    May 20, 2008 at 12:20 pm |
  2. David Chico

    During the clinton administration, more people rose up from poverty than at any other time in our nations history, white and black and Latino. If anybody wants that to happen again, just vote for Hillary and watch her go.

    May 20, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  3. shannon

    And I would like to invite Gary Tuchman back to Clay County to find and interview those of us who live and work here. We get tired of media coming in here and finding the worst they can find instead of all the great things there are here. We have poverty just like the rest of this country but we also have some really great reasons to stay here. Those reasons become obvious to each of us everytime we have to drive to Lexington and sit in traffic or deal with rude customer service people who work there. Every town has its bad side and good side, even ours.

    May 20, 2008 at 11:57 am |
  4. shannon

    I live in this poorest county in Kentucky. I would tell Lynn from Lexington, and everyone else viewing these comments, that you cannot look for what is not there. My daughter drives daily to Richmond, Ky. and back everyday because there are no jobs relating to her college degree in our area or close to our area, nor will there ever be. She has tried to keep her family here in Manchester because of family ties but has finally given in to selling her home and moving to Richmond because of gas prices and travel weariness. And now, you cant give away a home in Manchester because everyone else is also selling and moving to find employment. I have three more grown children who are also faced with these circumstances. You cannot solve or even begin to show the problems this area faces with one small evening documentary filmed from someone who does not face these problems.

    May 20, 2008 at 11:10 am |
  5. Amanda from KY in DC

    Perhaps Clay County should make McCain's list of forgotten places. He visited New Orleans to address the poverty and despair created by Katrina, but parts Eastern KY have been dealing with the same issue for decades. They truly have been forgotten and it has created a culture that is cyclical and opposed to change.

    May 20, 2008 at 10:06 am |
  6. Pat M

    Reply Greg Garner,

    I do not know much about these areas or their population. However, I do know there are many communities in America and Nations around the World who share the same story and same daily plight. It seems you may have painted all people with the same economic status as Clay County with the same broad brush.

    I don't know how oftern the people of Clay County eat out or how much they spend on tobacco products and alcohol. But I'm sure if I was living each day with their struggles I might splurge once in awhile and go to MacDonald's also. And the stress of my economic plight may lead me to additive substances to quell the stress and anxieties that each and every day brings.

    It is easy for us who haven't experienced the torment of wondering where our next meal may come from to sit at our computers and judge those people who are living through this torment daily. But the fact is the American Government and the Governments of many other wealthy Nations spend more money on the Iraq War and impoverished Third World Nations than they do on their own impoverished citizens. I believe "Charity Begins At Home."

    If America and other Nato Nations can give Billions to the Iraq War under the guise of security, why can't they ensure their own tax paying citizens have the necessities they need and the medical attention (Health Care) they deserve.

    So much for Obama's "Yes We Can" and We are not unique sectors of America but One America for all people and Clinton's "I will work my heart out for all of you." and I am in this race to help ALL AMERICANS.
    Maybe they should give some credability to their words by at least visiting these areas and acknowledging at least , that these people exist! And they are apart of the American Dream gone bad.

    May 20, 2008 at 9:06 am |
  7. russell gibson

    close factor job in clay co is over 30 miles there not no real good jobs , seen person for lexington say they too lazy most of county drive to london ky to work just too far with gas price that high

    May 20, 2008 at 3:10 am |
  8. bp

    barack the official "tv" president. i am disappointed that he is so out of touch with the financial conditions of the country. -his wife made herself a tv publicity hound. no she is not off limits.
    barack lacks integrity – he and his campaign staff criticize other's spouses. change we can believe in? great rhetoric, but lacks substance. no financial solutions, no social policy positions that will work, but lots of press. oh, by the way did i say the press treats him with kid gloves? if you are in the race then you should be able to withstand the criticism. obama complains any time anyone questions who he is or his position. as voters we have the right and the duty to conduct due diligence on him. this is a disappointing presidential election. so far the "tv front runner" has not proven himself in any substantial way.

    May 20, 2008 at 2:07 am |
  9. christy

    the only time the news reporters enjoy coming to clay county is when they can report some more negative news. They never go to the streets and try to find the good things of CLAY COUNTY, no wonder we can not get any companies to locate here, they think we are all poor, uneducated people, and are not qualified to work. Why did they choose to select the pat's snack bar and not McDonald's, or Burger King, or some of the other great food places, and Why did they not look into other places of employment such as the school board, state highway office, they may have had different ideas of the up coming election. Will any PRESIDENT that gets elected help us? We have been waiting and listening, but not hearing anything. We need a PRESIDENT that can step up and get the poor people out of poverty and i am sure that they are other places just like Clay COUNTY. We always get put down in the news media, making for a better report for the news. HOPE YOUR RATINGS GO UP AFTER TONITE, IS WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO OBTAIN.

    May 20, 2008 at 12:28 am |
  10. Courtney, Lexington, KY

    I have to agree with Ryan in my disappointment in the story on Clay County. I understand that there is heartbreaking poverty in Kentucky, and I do hope that leaders in government can address this. However, I feel like the piece only perpetuated stereotypes the nation has had about our great state. There is more to KY than poverty and "the womans place is at home" type thinking. I feel the piece lacked perspective in its lack of exploration of "why"s.

    I also have to address the thinking that people can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as mentioned above. The deep-rooted poverty in Eastern Kentucky can be related to the deep-rooted racism in larger, more urban areas. The structural poverty is not something you can overcome with willpower, just as structural racism cannot be brushed aside. When poverty (or racism) taints everything in your world–little to no access to good education, poor job market, inability to gain marketable skills, etc–it is not something that can be overcome overnight.

    We need to have strong leadership in the White House, as well as other public offices, to help make structural changes to help those stuck in the cycle of misfortune. And, maybe then, CNN can focus on the great things Kentucky has to offer.

    May 20, 2008 at 12:13 am |
  11. Gina

    The comment by Gary Garner seems to mirror the attitude of Sen.Obama.I feel blessed that I was able to receive 3 college degrees and I have never been deprived.That makes me more empathetic to people who were not given the advantages that I and my family have received.I feel that Hillary Clinton feels the same as I. She wants to help people so that they can have a better life.Mr. Obama feels that the people in Oregon are superior to the Kentuckians;;or so it seems since he chooses to spend his precious time and money campaigning there. I am sure that there are a great number of people in Oregon who are decent,,worthy people and do not feel superior Maybe they will show intelligence and vote for Hillary and not follow the example of the voters who are so ignorant that they feel a woman will not prove to be a great leader.England was always at its best when led by Queens as opposed to Kings.

    May 20, 2008 at 12:10 am |
  12. dana

    I understand their pain in Clay County, but haven't Clinton been in
    Kentucky all week. Why haven't she stop in and brought that guy some
    gas, since she feel white, uneducated, hard-working American are for her.
    I am all for her staying in until it's over, but don't put people in small boxes.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:50 pm |
  13. Mike in NYC

    Nick-Columbus, OH wrote:

    "He won Idaho, Alaska, Kansas, Iowa and the list goes on of primarily white states."

    He won those states precisely because they have very few blacks. Lower black population > less racial polarization > more liberal white Democrats.

    I agree that Appalachia is different. It seems to be one of the few areas in the country where many whites are still conscious of themselves as whites, with ethnic interests of their own.

    In that sense, they're a lot wiser than the deracinated (look it up) whites that have had their ethnic consciousness "educated" out of them.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:49 pm |
  14. Dianne

    The Kentucky voter calling Hillary a liar needs to add up the different stories told by Barrack. There must not be national television stations where this Kentucky voter lives.

    I agree with Greg G. in Georgia.

    Oregon, Kentucky, etc.–make sure you understand that one unexperienced man who does not even seem loyal to the entire population cannot make all of the CHANGES he promises. If you believe that, you are living in La La Land.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  15. Edward Miller

    Obama or Hillary can not change America. It is up to us the people, but if this time we again buy into the same old fear game we will find ourselfs in a world of hurt.
    We need to think in the WE not the I. I do not care what color or sex a person is. After Bush everyone looks good to me.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  16. Greg Garner


    I just finished watching your piece on the election and poverty in America, and it was pretty much what I expected...a lack of objectivity.

    Maybe the reason these people are "poor" is that they made many, many bad choices in their lives, such as getting no education, having very little job skills, having children they can't afford, excessive smoking, excessive drinking, gambling, etc. After all, if these people in your story are so "poor," why are they eating out and smoking cigarettes? It doesn't sound like they have no money; they just don't know how to spend what money they do have.

    Besides our definition of "poverty" in the U.S. is very different that other countries' definitions. Our "poor" have more luxuries than most European poor.

    But why didn't you bring up that in your interview?

    Also, why didn't you ask these people why they want the politicians and the government to bail them out of their situation. Is it so hard to believe that that is not the proper role of government...that somethings in life are up to the individual and not the government.

    I found your piece nothing more than a tool for pandering to ignorant Americans.

    Greg G. in Georgia

    May 19, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  17. Terrell from Illinois

    After watching the report, Iwouldn't be suprised if the turnout for tomorrow's election either. There are alot of pockets of poverty like that where I live and I personally know people in that situation. What most people don't get is when all you see before you is toil and destitution most people don't believe that no matter how hard they work nothing about their situation will change. Plus what alot of people who don't live in or near places like this is that it is a case of a catch 22. You don't have much to start with to better your station in life and when you try to get some sort of funding to help you change your life public and private institutions will hold it against you for not having the initial monies to to help yourself. Another thing, After looking at the picture that accompanies this piece it strikes me that the people in that area wouldn't be able to support any candidate due to the fact that their budgets wouldn't allow for spending other than basic needs

    May 19, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  18. ryan

    I am a Kentucky native and an avid CNN viewer. Living for 12 years now in Idaho, I have been watching with curiosity how CNN has covered the primary in Kentucky. I have to say I was disappointed and appalled by your coverage of Clay County. While Clay County is impoverished, it is not without its educated people however you seemed to only spotlight those who believe a "woman's place is in the home" because the Bible says so. In addition, after interviewing the mayor of Manchester who proclaimed Clay County has been forgotten about, you do not take the time or energy to explore any of the reasons for the poverty. Anderson Cooper, who claims you "can't just sit behind a desk" to report the news, should have pounded the pavement a bit harder to paint a fairer picture of the "divided" communities he and his ilk claims to be "covering." This was a sad example of perpetuating stereotypes and neglecting to see the actuality of the situation.

    May 19, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  19. Nick-Columbus, OH


    Barack does not have a problem with white voters. He won Idaho, Alaska, Kansas, Iowa and the list goes on of primarily white states. However when you look at the recent contests-Ohio, PA, WV, North Carolina etc look at the counties that Barack did not do well in-Appalachian counties. (WV is 100% Appalachian while Ohio only is Appalachian along the Southeast portion). Barack won Cuyahoga County which is old rust belt/union dominated/white factory workers. Despite the endorsement of Stephanie Tubbs jones-an extremely respected and popular congresswoman in Cleveland to Senator Clinton.

    Stop lumping all white white working class individuals together and recognize the unique culture and voting block that is Appalachia. This unique and vibrant culture should be broken out and viewed as a special population within US culture when analyzing politics and social movements.

    May 19, 2008 at 10:28 pm |
  20. Penny

    Finally, I'm so glad to see reporting focusing on a real issue in this country, we have an extreme poverty problem in this country too, thanks for the story.

    May 19, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  21. kentucky voter

    i am one of those - as hilary calls us- a low income, uneducated, blue collar worker who barely gets along with a minimun wage.
    but i am SMART enough to know not to vote for hilary the big fat liar.
    i wll vote for barack obama and support him for change .
    hilary lies at every event she goes to here in kentucky,
    people like me are not that dumb...

    May 19, 2008 at 10:08 pm |
  22. Jose Arguijo

    Can't Hillary due math even if the DNC counted the michigan and florida votes. She would still need 61% of the remaining vote. And if they don't she needs 72% of the remaining vote.

    May 19, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  23. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Do you want extra money to pay for health care and support the poor?

    One program that will help with the # 1 issue is to recognise the huge great importance and the boost to the economy of the elimination of income tax, and using sales tax as the one, simple source of government revenue. This brilliant idea has been kicked around for decades, but it lies by the side of the road.
    Besides eliminating tax loopholes it also collects from all the 'dirty' money, criminal purchases, and gets rid of the underground trades economy.
    Obama should ask Huckabee if he wants a Cabinet post to institute the 'Sensible' tax program. If Huckabee declines, I have documents of this proposal for a taxation system that I presented to a political party in Canada in the 1970's.
    If it's not politically correct to use the other sides idea, even if it will aid America greatly, then they can use it as my idea, which I proposed decades ago.
    Oh,, it would also save on the government cost of processing income tax, but the IRS workers could be retrained to administer health care.

    May 19, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  24. Mike in NYC

    Lilibeth wrote:

    "Poverty right here in America is one of the most underreported, if not unreported, subjects..."

    Only if it's white poverty. You know, the less important kind.

    May 19, 2008 at 8:47 pm |
  25. Eugenia

    The sad fact is that in every state there is a "Clay County"
    and none of the candidates have visited those ones either.

    San Francisco, Ca

    May 19, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  26. sarah B....Durham,NC

    some people can "better" themselves and their situations...overcome their circumstances....but they have to have faith...hope...courage...they have to have the drive in them to educate themselves...become independent and NOT dependent....to find the resources that will assist them in accomplishing their goals....what they aspire to have...to become....if they do not go out and educate themselves....go VOTE....and make some choice....then they can not "Complain" about the Consequences of their lack of actions...their Choices!!~.....there are ALL types of resources outlets available to people in our Country that Def. are Not in Alot of other countries....programs...government...state...non-profit....community based...that Everyone can use...Sadly...most do not....one must Seek to Find

    May 19, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  27. Larry

    Not to worry, Obama will bring prosperity to you; just chant 'yes we can' .

    May 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
  28. Sharon from Indy

    Throughout this country there are pockets of poverty not always crystal clear to see. Whether it is because of coal mine closings or just a culture of uneducated generations, the poverty of Kentucky is found off the dirt roads of the mountains, the trailer parks of the small towns, as well as the large cities' urban areas.

    The plight of the impoverished is only going to more extreme because of fuel prices. Living on a shoestring just a few feet away from living on the streets, or maybe without utilities, will only devastate these hard hit areas of Kentucky.

    These individuals or families stopped believing in the dream of a good wage and a good job long before hearing the names Barak Obama or John McCain.

    May 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  29. Annie Kate


    We as a nation can help people the world over but we don't help our own poor in Appalachia and other places. And its been that way for longer than I can remember.
    As a child my parents took us on a afternoon trip from Campbell County TN through Whitley County and Knox County to Clay to visit distant cousins. The images I saw then I will never forget – the houses slanted on their foundations, looking like rough knocked together sheds that would fall apart in a good wind; the children with no shoes and faded thin clothes playing out in the yard which amounted to a big muddy patch off the road, and the mother standing on the porch in a thin faded dress, no smile, and the depths of despair and hopelessness in her eyes. Those images scared me then and they still evoke dread in me now when I think about them.

    Why do we have people in this country who have so much and people who have so little and yet we pride ourselves on our generosity and charity as a nation Bobby Kennedy in 1968 toured these counties and talked to the people and understood their problems and wanted to help. 40 years later the poverty is still there, just the faces have changed. I hope whoever gets elected this time around will place priority on helping these Americans – they don't want a hand out, they just want a job and a fair chance.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 19, 2008 at 7:37 pm |
  30. Lynn, Lexington, KY

    Those people who "desperately want out of the grinding wheels of poverty but can't escape it" often don't use what resources they do have to help themselves and won't show up to work if they do have a job. Many drop out of high-school and have no desire to "better themselves. Not all but many. There is so much drug abuse and corruption in this part of the state that it is mind-boggling...and that's just within the elected officials and law enforcement agents! I would be interested to know how long ago this young man "lost his job" and if he was looking for one before gas prices went through the roof. I have a feeling that "gas prices" is just another in a long list of excuses he has to not look for a job.

    May 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  31. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    In some ways, these people are correct. The Democrats and Republicans are so involved in keeping things at a 2 party status quo system, the only entities getting help are huge multinational corporations who spend billions of dollars lobbying both political parties to gain unfair advantages over individuals. We need a political party for the people. A party which places individual freedom and financial reform for individuals ahead of corporate interests.

    This also explains why so many voters over the last couple of decades have dropped out of the political process altogether.

    May 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  32. Jo Ann


    Hi! I am glad to finally see a report on the people that have the most to lose during this upcoming election. While some of us, like the Limousine Liberals, the upper Middle Class and college kids that have not yet entered the work force, have the luxury to regard this election as some sort of game and can afford to make a mistake in November, the day to day struggle of these desperately poor people in places like Clay County, Kentucky hang in the balance. They cannot afford a mistake.

    In my opinion, Senator Obama lacks the integrity to become president because he has chosen to ignore the plight of these people because he cannot win the state.

    Thank you for paying attention to the voters who Obama seems to have regarded as irrelevant to the election.

    I look forward to your report tonight.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    May 19, 2008 at 7:25 pm |
  33. Cindy

    I've been all around in those areas and have seen the poverty first hand. It is sad that the government can't do more to help these people. And I definitely understand the feelings they have that no one can help them out of the dire situations that they are in. And honestly neither candidate has spoken anything at all about the most poverty stricken areas in our country and how they could try to help them. So I can see why they wouldn't show up to vote for any of them. Thanks for going to these places and bringing their plights to us all. Can't wait to see your report.

    May 19, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  34. Lilibeth

    Dear Gary,

    Poverty right here in America is one of the most underreported, if not unreported, subjects and I’m glad you’ve taken this on. It’s about time someone sheds light on one of the most ignored segments of our population. Thank you.

    What happened to America, land of the plenty and land of opportunities? It sure is different now than when I first immigrated 20+ years ago...


    Edmonds, Washington

    May 19, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  35. Mary Oklahoma

    That his shirts would sell at half price seems appropriate since he is only half the person that Senator Clinton is. He would be the half of President.

    May 19, 2008 at 6:57 pm |
  36. Kent, Illinois

    Most cannot fathom the terrible poverty that is in this state and other areas of this country. We see many from this country that decide to help fight world hunger when they see the poor people in other countries. But, the truth is we have plenty of homeless and hungry here in the great USA. And, the outlook isn't good. Elect another Republican into office and we can guarantee that everyone will be fending for themselves.

    May 19, 2008 at 6:42 pm |