Generational Poverty in Eastern Kentucky
This is an open letter about who I am and my family's roots.
My name is Laura Moran, and I am the daughter, granddaughter, and the great-granddaughter of previous South Eastern Kentucky residents. My grandmother and her eight siblings were the children of a coal-miner and a stay at home mother. My grandmother and my eight great aunts and uncles were raised in a small coal mining area of Eastern Kentucky known as Harlan County. My grandmother’s parents struggled to make enough to provide for their nine children, so my grandmother knew she had to find a way to get out of the generational poverty that could harm her future family. She worked her way through college to get her associates degree in nursing. When my grandmother graduated, she married and moved away from Harlan. After she had her first child which is my uncle, her and my grandfather moved back to Harlan. In Harlan they had their second child and third child which was my mother and my other uncle. My grandparents realized that it was hard to find well paying jobs in Harlan at the time, so they moved the family to Louisville, Kentucky. In Louisville my grandmother was able to work as a nurse and my grandfather was able to work as an over the road truck driver. As my mother grew up, she and her family continued to visit Harlan since most of my grandmother’s family still lived there. According to my mom, it became more obvious to her with age how “there were only a few things in Harlan County including coal mines and struggles.” She watched as many people her family knew lost everything when mines would go on strike or when the sole provider for the family would get injured in the mine.
The concept of generational poverty comes to my mind when I hear the stories of Harlan in the 1900s and when I visited Harlan as a child. Generational poverty usually happens in small counties and rural areas because children have to help their families with the family farm or income which leads teenagers to drop out of high school and enter the work force. When my ancestors lived in Harlan County some of my great aunts and uncles did not graduate high school because their family needed help. Although in the early 1900s that was common, the sad fact is that there are still places that experience this due to families struggling to make ends meet in the smaller and poorer counties in both this state and this country.
There is a photograph of young coal miners. Coal mining is one of the main sources of income in Harlan County. My mother has told me stories about my great grandfather who was a coal miner, but one that stuck out was the story that the only way my family knew which miner, that was coming out, was my great grandfather by how blue his eyes were. She said that when my family saw the miners coming out that they were totally covered in coal dust and debris that it was hard to tell them apart. This stood out to me because it shows how hard these individuals were working to provide for their families.
I am part of one of the lucky families who escaped the generational poverty of Harlan County, Kentucky. I am a coal miner’s great granddaughter. I am a nurse’s granddaughter, and I am a nurse’s daughter. My grandparents leaving Harlan County provided the opportunity for my mother and her brothers to graduate from college, and it is still helping my family by allowing my brother, my cousins, and me to attend and graduate from college. While I may have never lived in Easter Kentucky, I have heard the stories and seen the positives and the very negative effects of living there. As a closing I want to state that while I wrote about generational poverty in this area, I understand that not every family is like this but there is still sadly a number of them.
Citation for photographs.