Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Coronary Disease in the Heartland

Recently, I was scanning through the radio stations, and came upon a station touting that they were in the "Heartland of Pennsylvania".  I never really thought of our area as that, but geographically it could be true.  If that is the case, I think Pennsylvania might have coronary disease. 

I have always been aware of the low pay scale in our area.  The medium income is about $37,000.  That means half of the folks here earn less.  Most that I know earn much less.

I have always been told that the cost of living is so low, that the low wages is all relative.  I never could figure that out, as I pay the same for fuel, cars, medical tests,  clothes and household goods as the city folks.  We probably pay more for food, as our options are limited, and it has to be trucked in. The only thing I can see is our houses cost less.  But it costs the same to repair and build those houses...but we get less for it.  I pay more for my water and sewage as the small communities are socked with the state mandates, and have less of a customer base to pay for the upgrades.  I pay mightily for taxes for our schools, as the salaries of the teachers are negotiated using national average scale.  I don't see the lower costs.

What I see are fewer options.  Instead of cultural events that are offered, I can go to the mountains.  Instead of museums and live performances, I can go to the mountains.  Instead of vacations in warmer climates, I can tent in the mountains.  I wouldn't think of taking my laundry to the cleaners, or having someone else cut my hair, or fix my house, or car.  People who live here do it themselves, not because they can, but because they can't afford to pay someone else to do it. Whenever I see live performances, or cultural events, they are all funded heavily by grants and subsidies of the government.  The people in the cities are paying to keep the masses in the center entertained. 

What I am amazed at, is even though we live in an area with such low pay scales, is that we are still losing jobs.  Companies don't to move here, because there are even lower paying areas out there, for example in the south.  They don't even have to pay the higher taxes, nor the energy costs that they do to be in Pennsylvania.  So the cycle will continue.

Don't get me wrong, I love my mountains.  I chose to raise my family here.  I also chose to encourage them all to get a good education and get the hell out of here.  If you stay, you will be trying to raise a family in an area that lives on 12 hour shifts...a couple of day on, a couple of days off.  The drop out rate at the local school is 30%.  Every year, it is those 30% that stay, locked in by poverty and lack of education.  The population is declining.  The smart move on.  I once was told by a friend who went off and got a law degree, and came back to practice.  He said "You know what people think a good lawyer is?  Any lawyer from outside of the area."  Even the native perception is, if you are smart, what are you doing here?

It is sad, but I guess it is the way of all rural areas.  But is is like a disease.  The area is getting poorer, less opportunities for making good wages, the smart ones are leaving.  How many generations until the old heart just gives out.  Just like coronary disease.  The extremities of the body may function and look good for awhile, but eventually...

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