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Report: Recession wipes out Appalachian Ohio

Apr. 12, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Economic gains made by Ohio's Appalachian counties were wiped out at the beginning of the U.S. recession, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Income for people in the region climbed steadily from 2000 to 2007, only to be pushed back down in a single year at a rate sharper than the statewide average, according to an analysis by The Columbus Dispatch.

Statewide, average adjusted gross income rose 16 percent from 2000 to 2007, but dropped 5 percent from 2007 to 2008. The decline that year was especially steep in Gallia County (12 percent) and Lawrence County (14 percent) -- two of the southernmost counties in Appalachian Ohio.

The Dispatch analyzed federal tax return data gathered by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, a research organization.

The income trends are troubling but don't come as a surprise to Joy Padgett, a former state lawmaker who directed the Governor's Office of Appalachia.

"We are the first one to feel the impact and the last one to feel any recovery," she said.

In Vinton County, one of the poorest in the state, people look for work by commuting to nearby Athens, Jackson, Hocking and Ross counties, or even to Columbus. But jobs are scarcer now.

Jeff Jordan, 42, who lives in Vinton County, lost his job six weeks ago as a machine operator at Buckeye Automatic Inc., where he earned about $25,000 annually to support his wife and two sons, ages 8 and 17.

His wife, Billie Jo, has gone to work 20 hours a week at minimum wage, filling coolers and cleaning the Clark gas station and convenience store in McArthur.

The region has been hit by the loss of big manufacturers and cutbacks in government employment.

The region's once-dependable state- and county-government jobs, with good pay and benefits, started disappearing to state budget cuts.

"It's not all that different from the rest of the country, except we didn't have much of a base to begin with. We were already poor," said Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Job and Family Services office.

Families in Athens County have doubled and tripled up to share homes in recent years, and some live in campers, he said.

Padgett is optimistic that the region will rebound.

Enrollment in community colleges statewide is growing as both traditional students and nontraditional students -- the older, laid-off or career-changing -- seek out education and training, particularly in nursing and public-safety degree programs, said Padgett, who works at Central Ohio Technical College.

"This region knows how to make things, produce things," she said. "I think we will emerge with a stronger and more stable economy."

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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