Yep, UPS Has A Lot Of Its Own Logistics To Handle On Holidays, Too Thursday, Dec 8 2016 

You may notice more planes soaring over Louisville for the next few weeks.

This is the peak season for United Parcel Service and its Louisville-based air hub. The logistics giant will deliver more than 700 million packages around the world and is hiring 2,500 workers locally for the bustling holiday season.

Planning for the company’s busiest time of year happens in January — just after the previous peak season. By Labor Day, UPS planners have an idea about what additional flights they’ll need for the holiday season. The company coordinates with air traffic control and the regional airport authority to make sure there are no conflicts for airspace with passenger jets.

“First of all, we operate primarily at night for our next day air sort,” says Jim Mayer of UPS Airlines. “And at those times we’re normally the only carrier in the air.  

UPS flightsScreenshot/FlightAware

A screenshot of live UPS flight status via FlightAware (Click image to enlarge)

Mayer says UPS typically takes to the air during the 11 p.m – 3 a.m. window, and they’re usually the only carrier in the air during that time.

And Natalie Chaudoin with the Louisville Regional Airport Authority says there’s a coordinated effort to avoid keeping residents awake during the wee hours.

“One of the biggest things we do, specifically during the nighttime hours, is what we call contraflow,” says Chaudoin.

That’s when planes, weather permitting, arrive and depart south of the airport — where they fly over more businesses and fewer residences. So even as airliners zoom overhead this holiday season, Louisvillians should be able to get a good night’s rest.

Why Kentucky Ranks Third In The Nation For Student Loan Defaults Tuesday, Dec 6 2016 

When Latrice Doston was in high school, she learned if she was going to go to college, she was going to need some money. She thought tuition, room and board, books and everything else that comes with the price of college would magically get covered.

And with that, Doston entered the long and complicated process of applying for student loans. She’s 23 years old now, and lives in the Russell neighborhood with her dad and siblings. After a stint at community college, she’s finishing her degree at Lindsey Wilson College, a private liberal arts school in South-Central Kentucky. And Doston estimates she’ll owe about $25,000 for student loans when she graduates. 

“It scares me,” Doston says. “I don’t want my credit to get bad over this. But I just feel like I have to at least go for it because you need a college education now to get a good job and get the life you want. You gotta go for it.”

That’s the situation a lot of young people find themselves in: chasing a better future, but going tens of thousands of dollars into debt at the same time. And in Kentucky, more than almost anywhere else in the nation, students aren’t paying back those loans and are facing the consequences of default. 

Third in the Nation

Kentucky ranks third in the country in student loan defaults, behind New Mexico and West Virginia. More than 15 percent of borrowers end up defaulting on their student loans. That’s a little more than 12,000 borrowers.

Default is dependent on the terms of a loan. But usually it’s when a borrower hasn’t made a payment for nine straight months. And for some of these students, they just don’t know they’re in default.

“There’s obligations that the student has to have and supposedly know about,” says Lashala Goodwin, the executive director of the KentuckianaWorks College Access Center. She says some colleges haven’t done a great job explaining to teenagers the terms of a loan. But, she says financial literacy is improving.

“Before, it’s like you got a student loan and you got a student loan, that was it,” Goodwin says. “You did your counseling, but it wasn’t to the extent that’s like you know you have to pay this back.”

Molly Gesenhues is a lead counselor at the Educational Opportunity Center.  It’s a free program under KentuckianaWorks College Access Center which helps students navigate college applications, financial aid forms and other things.

“The majority of individuals that have defaulted on loans are often people that again attempted school and dropped out and didn’t even complete a semester’s worth of work,” she says. “But they got that loan money and spent it and then it’s on their record and they don’t realize, that hey, once you drop below half-time or once you graduate, you have six months before you have to start making payments.”

Her office helped about 2,800 students during the last school year — mostly first-generation college students, low-income students and students of color. And she says race and class can play a role in whether a student ends up defaulting.

Factoring in Policy

Nationally, black students are more likely to take on student debt. And in Kentucky, historically black college Kentucky State University has the highest default rate of any of the commonwealth’s public universities.

But there’s another reason Kentucky students may be more likely to go into default: government policy.

“We rank as one of the worst states for higher education cuts,” says Ashley Spalding, a research and policy associate at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Spalding says while most states in the past year have reinvested in education, Kentucky has not. And since 2008, higher education funding has been cut 32 percent per student. That means higher tuition and more loans. But Spalding says students who default typically don’t have very much debt.

“That’s kind of counterintuitive to look at that,” she says. “But it really makes sense when you start thinking about why would someone spend $100,000 to go to school. Well often it’s to get one of these highly advanced degrees.”

Think about students who go to school for law, medicine or business or get some other advanced degree. Or even a Bachelor’s degree that garners a high salary, like petroleum engineering.  Sure, some of these students take on more debt but their salaries will reward them for their career choice making it least likely that they’ll go into default. That’s not the same for someone who gets a less advanced degree, or worse, doesn’t finish school. They’ll most likely not get a high paying job and that can lead to default.

That’s the trap Latrice Doston is trying to avoid falling into. She’s considering pursuing a master’s degree after graduating from Lindsey Wilson College. When she’s done, she could owe more than $80,000 in student loans. Her dream is to be a therapist, which has an average salary of about $35,000.

Despite this, Doston is determine to get her degree, no matter the cost.

“Hopefully I can get a place; I can get my own place in the NuLu or Highlands area and I’ll be a therapist at Seven Counties seeing children and just having a great life,” she says. You know, buying books and reading. You know, paying off my student loans.”

For students like Dotson, the dream of completing a degree outweighs the risk of default.

From The Ground Up: Angelique Johnson Of MEMstim Monday, Dec 5 2016 

In 2011, Angelique Johnson was an electrical engineering Ph.D student in Michigan when she decided to start her company, MEMstim, which manufactures cochlear implants for people with hearing loss.

At first, Johnson was torn between starting her own business and working for a large company where she could earn a six-figure salary. Applying for funding — and receiving it –pushed her into entrepreneurship. She eventually received grants from the Commonwealth as well as from the National Institutes of Health, including one for $1.4 million.

As part of of our weekly series From the Ground Up, a conversation with entrepreneurs, changemakers and other innovators in the city, I spoke with Johnson at her office in the Louisville Glassworks building on Market. Listen to our conversation in the player above.

On deciding to start a business:

“I think as entrepreneurs and business owners, people aren’t as honest about this. Every day you wake up, you feel like you’re jumping off a cliff. There’s no easing down, there’s no ropes, there’s no ‘I can get enough training and this won’t feel like I’m having a heart attack when I make my next business move.’ Every day that you make a big decision it feels like that. I think a lot of people are scared off from starting their own business because they feel like they’re not ready for it. And I just want people to know that you’re never ready for it. You just dive off the cliff and hopefully somewhere between the ground and the top of the cliff you sprout wings and you fly.”

Why she doesn’t like the word ‘entrepreneur’:

“I call myself an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ and I actually don’t even like that term. I feel so bad but I hate the word entrepreneur. I just want to make something that helps somebody. And the only way to do that is to commercialize the technology. And by default that makes me an entrepreneur.”

On why Louisville is a great place for her business:

“The one thing I truly believe about Louisville is that it truly is a city of possibilities. The greatest benefit to being in Louisville versus another city is you have a little bit more flexibility. You get a lot of closed doors in your face. There’s a lot of things you can’t do. It is bureaucratic and rigid just like most other cities. But Louisville has this undercurrent of if you can dream it and if you can come up with a very logical reason why it should work and you can show and you can prove that out, then there’s possibilities to test out things that I otherwise wouldn’t. So, I have more flexibility in my company here.”

Growing Concerns: Trump’s Immigration Rhetoric Sows Anxiety In Agriculture Monday, Dec 5 2016 

On Nelson Key Road in Murray, Kentucky, lies a 30-acre tobacco farm and there sits the road’s namesake, Nelson Key himself. He’s just at the end of this year’s harvest, which was brought in with the help of migrant workers.

“I used American workers up until 1991 then I went to the migrant workers and I’ve had them ever since,” he explained.

Over the years, Key found it harder to hire domestic labor despite offering pay above minimum wage. Migrant workers now fill the gap. He uses the immigration service’s H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers. Key has to show that he tried to hire locally before he’s eligible to hire foreign labor for seasonal work.

That’s how he found Jose Humanez, a 33-year-old from Nayarit, Mexico. He grew up around tobacco and has worked for Key for 11 years. He said the H-2A process wasn’t too complicated.

“It’s not that hard but it takes a bit of work,” Humanez said. His cousin who had also worked in U.S. agriculture told him about the opportunity.

Jose Humanez comes from Mexico to Kentucky each year for work on a tobacco farm thanks to the H-2A program for seasonal workers.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Jose Humanez comes from Mexico to Kentucky each year for work on a tobacco farm thanks to the H-2A program for seasonal workers.

The H-2A program requires producers to provide adequate housing, workman’s comp insurance, transportation from home to the farm and a road-ready vehicle for independent use.

Humanez is satisfied with the program and said he believes it protects his rights as a worker. He speculated that many Mexicans who come here illegally either don’t have access to the information about work programs or are just desperate.

“There are places in Mexico that this information and paperwork simply doesn’t get to them,” he said. “They don’t know that it exists or they don’t have access to it, one way or another.”

Humanez is vaguely familiar with Donald Trump, and said he isn’t afraid of his threats to build a wall or deport immigrants because he is in the country legally. But millions of other workers on farms and in stockyards and processing facilities are not. Researchers say the sort of mass deportation Trump talked about could wreak havoc on the country’s food system.

Labor Shortages

“If we do see a policy of mass deportation it would have really, really significant negative effects,” according to Philip Wolgin, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy and research advocacy group based in Washington, D.C..

CAP reports that the removal of  11 million undocumented workers living in the U.S. could reduce the gross domestic product by $434 billion, on average annually, wiping  away anywhere between 8.5 percent and 21 percent of the country’s agriculture industry.

Trump’s immigration reform plan is unclear, said Wolgin, but he thinks dramatic change is likely via some mix of policies that would result in forcing unauthorized immigrants out of the country.

“Everything from making life as difficult as possible for them, random raids that drive terror through immigrant communities, have more employment verification penalties on working without status, and that sort of thing,” Wolgin said.

The president-elect has indicated in recent statements that he might be backing away from campaign pledges to deport 11 million people. Wolgin said it’s “a bit dangerous” to assume that Trump might not follow through on his commitments to mass deportation and building a wall.

“Particularly because of who he has advising him on immigration,” Wolgin said. He pointed to Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Trump adviser Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as two of the most noted critics of immigration.

Migrant workers provide a large portion of farm labor for jobs producers say can't be filled locally. Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Migrant workers provide a large portion of farm labor for jobs producers say can’t be filled locally.

Immigration reform doesn’t only affect the migrant community, Wolgin said.

“For example, you’ve also got people that package those crops and people that drive them to where they will be sold and then stores that sell them,” he explained. “All of those people that rely on farm workers end up seeing their own economic positions weakened.”

Food Security

Each state would feel different impacts from immigration changes. A 2012 report by the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission estimates 70 percent of the state’s migrant agricultural workforce is undocumented. Kentucky and West Virginia could feel the impact in increased food costs. Lisa Meierotto, a cultural and environmental anthropologist at Boise State University, said that brings a threat to food security.

“Food security means having the ability to access nutritional food on a regular basis,” Meierotto said. “So when we talk about food security here, we’re not talking about famines and starvation. We are really talking about the availability of nutritional food.”

Meierotto said that if immigration changes reduce farm labor it’s also a reasonable assumption that the cost of those food items would go up. What people have to pay as a percentage of their their household expenditures for food would also increase, creating “a negative experience for a lot of working families,” Meierotto said.

Migrant workers picking cabbage on a farm in Ohio.Bob Jagendorf

Migrant workers picking cabbage on a farm in Ohio.

She said it is important to consider that many of the migrant workers here in the U.S. are also members of working families that now permanently reside in the U.S.

A study by the USDA Economic Research Service found that three-quarters of crop farm workers do not migrate broadly. Instead they work within 75 miles of their homes.

Meierotto attributes this change to the “prevention through deterrence” policy implemented in the early ’90s, which greatly stepped up patrol deployment and barriers along the U.S/Mexico border. The result was a transition in our farm labor.

Most of the migrant labor that Trump has threatened to deport aren’t actually migrant at all anymore, she argued, but rather part of “mixed status” homes, where parents are often undocumented and children were born in the U.S.

Studies by Meierotto and others show that immigration policy changes from decades ago had unintended consequences that are still felt today. She said the “draconian immigration reform” implied by Trump’s rhetoric could have serious consequences for all families, migrant and domestic.

National Security

A lack of access to farm labor could also lead to import dependency, according to Bill Crispin, an agricultural attorney in Gainesville, Florida. He recently wrote an article for the December issue of The Ag Magazine to bring attention to the issue.

“Domestic food production is a national security issue,” Crispin said. “The Farm Bill used to be called the Food Security Act, or had the words of national security in there, and then I think the globalization of agriculture, [trade] opened up through NAFTA, has maybe softened an underlying premise of making sure we have adequate resources to have a sustainable domestic food production.”

When you start importing more food products, Crispin explained, food safety issues become more prominent. “Whether it’s listeria, or salmonella, offshore growing facilities don’t have the same sanitation regulations the U.S. has, Crispin said.

Migrant workers on a Virginia produce farm.Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Migrant workers on a Virginia produce farm.

If there are mass deportations, Crispin said the quandary then becomes sourcing the other labor.

“The argument that by allowing immigrants to do work takes away a job from a citizen hasn’t played out in the reality of a typical farm operation,”  Crispin said. “Many farmers have attempted to source labor locally and it is hard if not impossible to find a replacement for that labor.”

Even though farm work is classified as “unskilled” labor, Crispin argued that the term is inaccurate. He said that many have developed techniques that, for example, “enable a worker to fill a bucket of tomatoes efficiently so that the farmer gets the crop out timely and the worker is able to earn a wage,” he said.

Chilling Effect

Georgia has shown what can happen to farm labor when immigration policies change suddenly. In 2011 the state implemented stricter policies requiring growers to adhere to additional registration. Charles Hall, Executive Director of the Georgia Growers Association, said rumors circulated among migrant workers and the flow of labor stopped. This “chilling effect” caused a 40 percent decline in labor according to the Georgia Growers Association, dropping crop revenues $140 million, with a multiplier effect of $390 million lost in economic activity.

Hall said what any actual policy from the incoming Trump administration might be is pure speculation at this point. Unfortunately, he said the heated rhetoric from the campaign could have its own effect, which is what he saw happen in his state in 2011.

“We had workers tell us they had heard there were barricades at the border between Georgia and Florida and that is why they didn’t come to Georgia to work,” he said. “So it’s really difficult to know what is going to happen until we have more on the table.”

Hall said more producers in Georgia are using the H-2A program, as Nelson Key did for his Kentucky tobacco farm. But Hall said the program has some drawbacks.

“As we have seen more of our growers increase in reliance on H-2A, we have not seen an increase in staff at the U.S. Department of Labor,” to process requests under the program, he said.

This has caused a delay in the arrival of immigrant workers in an industry where time is critical. Hall said growers are set back by the smallest problems, such as an error on an application where a grower hasn’t capitalized a name. Until recently, Hall said, all paperwork was sent via mail — snail mail. Only recently were electronic services added.

As the new administration takes office, he said, any immigration reform has to “go hand in hand with a guest worker program.”

A Trump Ag Adviser

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles is also on Trump’s Agriculture Advisory Council. He said his main role is to advocate for the producers, and they have been clear they want change.

“The Ag community has been aggressively advocating reforming the H2A program for well over a decade,” Quarles said. “The program is inflexible, it has tremendous administrative burden, and in some cases has caused shortages in the labor force because the program is too cumbersome.”

Quarles said Trump’s Advisory Committee last met the day before the end of the presidential elections, and the group has submitted a document to the president-elect on a number of issues, including H-2A reform.

Others interviewed for this story agree H-2A reform is a must. But millions of the workers in our food system still face a lot of uncertainty until the president-elect clarifies his plans on immigration.

Unemployment Rate Drops To 4.6 Percent, Lowest Level Since 2007 Friday, Dec 2 2016 

Unemployment dropped by 0.3 percentage points, to 4.6 percent, last month — the lowest rate since 2007 — according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As NPR’s Marilyn Geewax notes, 4.6 percent unemployment is what most economists consider “full employment.” But the report wasn’t all good news: wages dropped slightly, instead of showing a hoped-for increase.

The jobs report says the U.S. added 178,000 new jobs in November, which is about what economists had expected. Predictions called for some 180,000 new jobs last month, NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reports — almost exactly the average monthly growth for the year so far.

But the drop in unemployment was a surprise — economists thought it would hold steady at 4.9 percent.

The BLS notes that the unemployment rate had shown little movement from August 2015 through October 2016.

The drop in unemployment was driven by adult men, while the rates for women and teenagers didn’t show much or any change.

The labor force participation rate, the number of people with part-time jobs who would prefer full-time jobs, and the number of discouraged workers all showed little change.

Average hourly earnings dropped by 3 cents, after seeing an 11-cent rise in October. Economists had been watching to see if the relatively low unemployment rate would be pushing employers to raise wages, Yuki Noguchi reports.

“In previous years, wage gains have been stagnant,” Yuki told our Newscast unit. “But in October, wages increased at their fastest pace since the end of the recession — 2.8 percent.”

That trend did not continue in November. The BLS notes that over the course of the year, counting the small drop in November, wages have increased by 2.5 percent.

Professional and business services, health care and construction all added new jobs, while other major industries neither added or lost jobs.

The report also revised the jobs numbers for the last two months — the numbers for September went up to 208,000, and for October went down to 142,000. In total the revisions meant there were 2,000 fewer jobs added this fall than had previously been reported.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

At Summit, Louisvillians Aim To Shape West End’s Future Wednesday, Nov 30 2016 

The Annual Urban City Economic Empowerment Summit and Town Hall Wednesday attracted West Louisville residents and Metro government officials.

The day-long event at the Ray Barker Economic Empowerment Center consisted of panel discussions, breakout sessions and a town hall meeting.

I spoke with some of the participants about the summit’s importance. Listen to the audio in the player above.

Jaylin Stewart spoke with attendees as they looked over her kaleidoscopic portraits. The vivid subjects are painted against an orange background. All are under 23 years of age and died from either homicide or illness.

Jaylin Stewart paintingRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

A painting of 19-year-old Mariah Wilson by Jaylin Stewart.

“Mariah Wilson was a 19-year-old girl and she was a homicide victim of this year,” Stewart said. “I believe it was in September. And I did her specifically because it just broke my heart. ‘Cause she was so beautiful, so young, you know.”

Entrepreneurship was one of the focuses of the summit. Stewart said she wants to operate as a small business and use the money she earns from selling her art to help her go back to school.

“And I’m here networking trying to meet as many different people as I can,” she said.

summit Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org

A small crowd attends the morning session of the annual Urban City Economic Empowerment Summit and Town Hall in Louisville.

Kathleen Parks is director of the annual summit. She said this and similar events are critical in shaping the area’s future.

“We’ve had over 60 years of disinvestment, disenfranchisement economically in West Louisville,” she said. “It’s gone on too long.”

Sessions at the free, day-long summit include starting your own small business enterprise; banking and financial management 101; and temporary job opportunities leading to full-time employment.

The town hall is scheduled to take place Wednesday evening. The topic is “Seeking Solutions: How do we empower and create an economically viable West Louisville?”

There’s more information here.

Jobless Rates Down In 82 Kentucky Counties Wednesday, Nov 30 2016 

State officials say unemployment rates fell in 82 Kentucky counties between October 2015 and October 2016.

The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training says jobless rates rose in 33 counties during that span.

It says rates stayed the same in Breckinridge, Knott, Laurel, McLean and Powell counties.

The agency says Woodford County had the state’s lowest jobless rate at 3 percent. Oldham and Shelby counties followed at 3.1 percent each. Fayette and Spencer counties were next at 3.3 percent each, followed by Warren County at 3.4 percent.

It says Magoffin County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 14.1 percent. It was followed by Leslie County at 11.6 percent, Harlan County at 10.5 percent, Letcher County at 10.3 percent, Elliott County at 10.1 percent and Floyd County at 9.9 percent.

This Weekend Is Small Business Saturday In Louisville (And Elsewhere) Friday, Nov 25 2016 

If you’re avoiding the rush of Black Friday and want some shopping that’s a little more neighborly, tomorrow is Small Business Saturday. It’s a national movement to encourage shoppers to buy local.

There are more than 870 member businesses in LIBA, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance. And a lot of them will have their doors open on Saturday.

Small Business Saturday began in 2010 and has grown dramatically since. Last year, consumers in the U.S. spent more than $16 billion at local businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

LIBA director Jennifer Rubenstein says shopping local offers a variety of benefits.

“It keeps more money circulating in the local economy,” she says. “And second, it supports what makes up the character of our community. These businesses are very unique, and they’re a big part of what makes Louisville, Louisville.”

The nonprofit American Independent Business Alliance says $48 of every $100 spent locally stays in the community where it’s spent.

“Locally operated businesses across the Greater Louisville region greatly appreciate the Small Business Saturday national movement,” GLI President and CEO Kent Oyler said in a news release. “This day highlights the significance of supporting our local small businesses which form the core of our regional economy.”

LIBA is introducing a new shop local gift card this year that’s good at more than 50 participating local businesses. And if you’re a Twitter user, the hashtag for Small Business Saturday is #shopsmall.

From The Ground Up: Kaveh Zamanian Of Rabbit Hole Distilling Monday, Nov 21 2016 

A hobby in distilling led Kaveh Zamanian to drop his career as a psychoanalyst to work in the industry full-time. Zamanian is founder of Rabbit Hole, a 35,000-square-foot distillery opening next year in NuLu. It will include tours, tasting rooms and a restaurant.

Zamanian came to the U.S. from Iran when he was 14. His family settled in San Francisco. He eventually made his way to Southern California and still has family along the coast.

His story of adjusting to the United States led him to a career in psychology. And having roots in the Golden State led him to see the parallels between the wine industry in California and bourbon in Kentucky.

I spoke with Zamanian in NuLu about how psychology has helped him in the world of distilling.

On adjusting to the United States:

“My father is a physician, and we would say in the old country probably in the upper middle class or maybe even the upper class, if you would. But when we settled in the States it was really a reset for everybody. Particularly for my father, who had to re-calibrate, go back to school and have to start from beginning.

“We left behind everything and lost everything when we came here. So we came from a fairly comfortable life to having to start from scratch. And just to give you an example, my dad was a chief of urology in a hospital in Tehran and came here and was essentially, for about two years, doing nurse’s aid work just to get recertification here in the States and get back to his field.  

“It was quite an adjustment for all of us. Those were some of the things that contributed to thinking about emotional life, family life and how it impacts a person’s development. And ultimately, kind of an opening to psychology.”

On how psychology helped him with spirits and distilling:

“Over the years working with a lot of individuals and private practices, a lot of folks have not been able to for one reason or another to actualize, either identify or actualize their dreams. And part of psychotherapy is really helping them identify those dreams and help them remove some of those obstacles that get in the way of pursuing those dreams.

“So ultimately for me this was kind of a personal trip or journey as well of transforming and being able to get to a place where I feel emboldened, to not only figure out what I want in life but also pursue it. And I think that really is a foundation for running a business.”

On why he jumped on the bourbon bandwagon:

“I would say that probably one of the things that is high on the list is the fact that most Americans don’t know about bourbon. Internally we talk about one of our missions being to be able to essentially get people to fall in love with bourbon the way Kentuckians do. I think most Americans still believe and think that bourbon is a Kentucky product rather than part of their national heritage.

“Along those lines, when I think about a country like France and their sense of pride and ownership of champagne or Bordeaux or any other number of products they put out, I feel like that sense of ownership and pride is not what we hear when it comes to bourbon in the U.S. So to me that was a source of inspiration.

“I love this country. I love bourbon, and I feel that there should be a sense of pride in essentially a product that is through-and-through Americana.”

Trumped: Coal’s Collapse, Economic Anxiety Motivated Ohio Valley Voters Sunday, Nov 20 2016 

The electoral map of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia is a sea of red with a few islands of blue. Of the 263 counties in the three states, only nine went for Hillary Clinton, most of them around the region’s cities.

The Ohio Valley ReSource looked to voters and voting data to learn more about what motivated Donald Trump’s supporters and what they hope he will do as president.

“More than Obama did!” Judy Collier said from a grocery story parking lot in Whitesburg, Kentucky. “We need jobs.”

“I don’t think Trump is some savior,” Athens County, Ohio, native Rebecca Keller said. “But he is somebody with a different perspective.”

“I will keep my fingers crossed that he can effect some real change in this country,” Jack Rose said in Wheeling, West Virginia.

The county-by-county vote results also tell a story when matched against some of the region’s key economic and social indicators. Some insights and some questions arise about what Trump voters want.

Coal’s Collapse

ovr-state-breakdowns-coal-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

One obvious factor was the anxiety over the collapse of the region’s coal industry.

“Our coal jobs are gone here in Eastern Kentucky,” Collier said. She lives in Eolia in Letcher County, which has seen a sharp drop in mine production and employment.

David Boggs of nearby Cumberland echoed the hope that Trump will reverse the decline. “He’ll put the coal business back together and straighten this country up a little bit, maybe.”

Resource data reporter Alexandra Kanik looked at the votes for Clinton and Trump in the counties in the three-state region that produce the most coal. (Her results can be seen in the accompanying maps.)

David Boggs of Cumberland, Kentucky: “He’ll put the coal business back together." Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

David Boggs of Cumberland, Kentucky: “He’ll put the coal business back together.”

The top coal producing counties in the region had two, three, sometimes six times the support for Trump over Clinton, Kanik found.

Trump seized on coal’s demise and pinned the blame on federal regulations. West Virginia University history professor William Hal Gorby said that fits a long pattern in regional politics.

“Rolling back environmental regulations, what’s called the overreach of EPA, it’s sometimes referred to as the ‘war on coal,’” Gorby said. “That language has had a lot of support, of course, before Trump was running for president.”

The “war on coal” still makes for politically potent rhetoric. However, it does not match well with facts. Executives at electric utilities say their move away from coal has more to do with economics than environmental regulation — natural gas is just cheaper. And since Election Day, some mining industry supporters have walked back their promises of a coal comeback.

Rust Belt Blues

ovr-state-breakdowns-ecodistress-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Trump supporters also hope manufacturing jobs might return.

Electrical contractor Jack Rose of Wheeling once worked in the steel industry that sustained the city for decades.

“I saw the industry decimated by the wealthy who wanted to maximize profits,” he said. “You see jobs outsourced to Mexico, Canada, China, everywhere but here.”

Martin Dofka, an airplane mechanic in Wheeling, also worked in the steel mills before they shut down. “I believe there should be tariffs on imports if those companies don’t meet standards they’d face in the U.S.,” he said. “It is unfair labor that’s created the Rust Belt.”

While free trade helped consumers and some companies here, the Ohio Valley’s heavy manufacturing base clearly came out on the losing end of many trade deals. Many manufacturing and mining communities fell into economic distress.

Rebecca Keller (center) of Athens County, Ohio: "He’s not a savior, but he is somebody with a different perspective." Atish Baidya/WOUB

Rebecca Keller (center) of Athens County, Ohio: “He’s not a savior, but he is somebody with a different perspective.”

What a Trump administration might do about that is an open question. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to take a tougher stance with trading partners and to renegotiate or scrap some free trade deals. One of those deals, the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, now appears to be dead.

However, a recent incident in the region raises questions about how well Trump’s rhetoric matches reality when it comes to manufacturing and trade. On Nov. 17, the president-elect used his Twitter account to claim credit for preventing Ford from moving a Kentucky plant to Mexico.

“I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky,” Trump tweeted.

But Ford made clear that the plant, which makes a Lincoln-branded SUV, was not in consideration for a move to Mexico and that no jobs at the plant were in danger. Rather, the company was considering an assembly line switch to another model of SUV (the Ford Escape).

Poverty and the Polls

ovr-state-breakdowns-poverty-v4Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

ReSource reporter Kanik’s analysis shows several counties in the region with the worst poverty also had the greatest turnout for Trump.

“Martin County, with some of the highest poverty in Kentucky, had 10 times the vote for Trump,” she said. “In fact, no county in our region with greater than 30 percent poverty went blue.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission classifies 54 counties in the three states as economically distressed. All but one — Athens County, Ohio — went for Trump.

Democratic positions on taxes and government services traditionally favor folks with low incomes, giving rise to the argument that many people in the region are voting against their own economic interests.

But historian Gorby argued that it’s not that simple. Democrats, he said, long ago drifted from the New Deal coalition platform that appealed to many working people and the poor.

“They moved away from core issues of economic security that really matter a lot to ordinary working people and particularly rural voters,” Gorby said. “It’s left a lot of people in the Rust Belt and Appalachia feeling neglected.”

The Healthy Choice?

ovr-state-breakdowns-uninsured-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Health care was also an issue for some Trump voters.

“We need medical care,” Judy Collier said. “More than Obamacare — cheaper medicine.”

This is an issue where the vote and the data tell different stories. Kanik noted that as recently as 2013, Kentucky and West Virginia had uninsured rates of 20 percent or higher. Both states made tremendous progress under the Affordable Care Act.

“By 2016, after both states expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, we saw rates much closer to 5 or 10 percent,” she said.

Yet only two counties in those two states went blue. Most voted for the candidate who pledged to repeal the law.

Judy Collier of Eolia, Kentucky: "We need jobs and medical care."Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Judy Collier of Eolia, Kentucky: “We need jobs and medical care.”

“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” said Simon Haeder, a professor at WVU’s John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics, where he focuses on health care.

Haeder said his research shows that many people strongly support most elements of the Affordable Care Act. But when asked about “Obamacare,” that support plummets.

“Most members of the public have little idea of what the Affordable Care Act is or what it does,” he said. He blamed misinformation from the media and the major political parties.

“One of the major parties certainly has every incentive to distort what it does,” Haeder said. “And the other party has done a poor job explaining how people benefit.”

ReSource reporters Benny Becker, Glynis Board, Nicole Erwin and Aaron Payne contributed to this story. 

Next Page »