Letter: ‘Dan-alysis’ shouldn’t look at Appalachian counties

Published 10:54 am Saturday, November 30, 2019

From Phil Osborne, Danville —

I have one question after the recent “Dan-alyzing” conducted by the EDP. “Do we really want to compare Danville and Boyle County to Appalachia?” Three of the six reference counties are among the 54 Kentucky counties designated as part of Appalachia, with all of the attendant challenges.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Appalachia. I was born there; grew up there; and have spent a significant part of my career trying to improve the economy of the region. That is why I’m a little dismayed that the “Dan-alysis” of the data is content with a race to the middle when the focus should be more on a race to the top, and not compared to our neighbors, but to the state and its leading communities.

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As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the field of research, I know the old saying is true: If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything, Or more simply, if you squeeze the numbers hard enough, they’ll say anything you want.

When compared to non-Appalachian counties, Boyle did not fare as well, including in the area of average weekly wages, which trailed Mercer and Marion, was only slightly higher than Washington, and significantly LOWER than the state average. Take out wages for employees at institutions like Ephraim McDowell, Centre College, city and county governments, and the school systems, then recalculate the numbers. Will the new total move closer to the state average, or closer to our Appalachian neighbors? Additionally, the earning power of those wages will now be further diminished by increases in county payroll and Danville School property tax rates.

Earning power impacts everything from housing to transportation to food security to health and wellness to early childhood development to …

You get the point.

In making comparisons, let’s not look south and east for the benchmarks. Look north and west: Nelson, Anderson, Oldham, Woodford, Shelby, and Bullitt for example. How do we stack up against communities that aren’t part of disadvantaged Appalachia?

I’ll make it easy. There were 46 counties with weekly wages higher than Boyle’s in the first quarter. Only six are in Appalachia.

The good news is that Centre College and Ephraim McDowell Health aren’t leaving town. The bad news is that they might increasingly become isolated islands of security for employees in a sea of low-wage jobs and financial uncertainty.