For the first two years of college I attended Ohio University: a University that sits in the heart of Appalachia in South East Ohio. Although the surrounding mountains and rolling hills are beautiful, what lies within Athens County is less than beautiful. A 2014 study shows that Athens county has the highest percentage of people with low to moderate income in the entire state of Ohio. Because Athens is a college town this statistic had to take into consideration the number of students living in houses off campus. Even after taking this into consideration, the outcome of this study was still shocking. In Athens county, 32 percent of its residents live below the poverty line, meaning they make less than twenty thousand dollars a year. WIthin the city of Athens the number of residents living below the poverty line is 54 percent. I have witnessed this first hand. I frequented uptown Athens quite a bit while I attended OU. I worked at a sandwich shop on it’s main strip. I went to shows at local venues. There are also many great restaurants that my friends and I would go to regularly. At the time it seemed great. A typical small American college town that was kept out of the greedy hands of corporate America. Unfortunately this reality was too good to be true.
While I attended OU there was a bar that my friends and I would go to a lot called the Smiling Skull Saloon. It was an obscure bar where people who didn’t really like the uptown bar scene went to. A place where one could go and enjoy a drink and conversation. Keep in mind that this bar was not in town. It lied more on the outskirts where the real residents of Athens lived. I’m not talking about OU students but actual Athens residents. What I saw was far from pleasantly rural: run down houses, unkept yards, dirty children, beer cans lying on the porch, etc. The more I saw these homes the more I realized the cause of these living conditions. Lack of education is what I believe to be the number one cause of poverty in Athens County. With these low incomes the residents of Athens could never afford to go to school and receive an education. Living in Appalachia, it is hard to see the importance of an education. Not only that the opportunity to do so way not always be available. Whether those reasons are financial or cultural. Without an education the people living below the property line will never be able to meet the cost of living that it takes to thrive in the city. It takes between 30 and 37 thousand dollars annually to comfortably support a family of for. Less than half of Athens County residents are receiving that annual income.