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Natural Resource Curse and Poverty in Appalachian America


  • Partridge, Mark
  • Betz, Mike
  • Lobao, Linda


The Appalachian mountain region has long been characterized by deep poverty which led to the formation of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in 1965. The ARC region covers West Virginia and parts of 12 other states, running from New York to Mississippi (Ziliak 2012). The ARC region had an average county poverty rate of over 40 percent in 1960, about double the national average (Deaton and Niman 2012; Ziliak 2012). While the poverty gap between the ARC region and the rest of the nation closed significantly by 1990, it remained nearly twice as large in Central Appalachia. There are many reasons for higher poverty in Appalachia in general and Central Appalachia in particular. Possible causes include a low-paying industry structure, below average education, low household mobility, and remoteness from to cities (Weber et al. 2005; Partridge and Rickman 2005; Lobao 2004). A key distinction between Central Appalachia and the rest of the ARC region is its historic dependence on coal mining. There is long literature arguing that the area’s dependence on coal mining has contributed to its deep poverty through weaker local governance, entrepreneurship, and educational attainment, as well as degrading the environment, poor health outcomes, and limitations on other economic opportunities (Deaton and Niman 2012; James and Aadland 2011). These factors are broadly associated with the natural resources curse in the international development literature. More recently, the process of mountain top mining (MTM) has expanded coal mining’s environmental footprint in the region, possibly increasing health risks and further reducing the chances for long-term amenity-led growth that can alleviate poverty (Deller 2010; Woods and Gordon 2011). This study reinvestigates the causes of county poverty rates in Appalachia with a special focus on coal mining’s role. Using data over the 1990-2010 period we assess whether coal mining continues to have a positive association with poverty rates, even as the industry’s relative size has declined. We also appraise whether MTM is associated with higher poverty. We do this by comparing the ARC region to the rest of the U.S. and by using more disaggregated employment data that allows us to differentiate the effects of coal mining from other mining (versus aggregating all mining together as in past research). The results suggest that any potential adverse effects of coal mining on poverty have declined over time. Below, we first develop an empirical model followed by the empirical results. The final section provides our concluding thoughts.

Suggested Citation

  • Partridge, Mark & Betz, Mike & Lobao, Linda, 2012. "Natural Resource Curse and Poverty in Appalachian America," MPRA Paper 38290, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:38290

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dan Black & Terra McKinnish & Seth Sanders, 2005. "The Economic Impact Of The Coal Boom And Bust," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(503), pages 449-476, April.
    2. Dorfman, Jeffrey H. & Patridge, Mark D. & Galloway, Hamilton, 2008. "Are High-Tech Employment and Natural Amenities Linked?: Answers from a Smoothed Bayesian Spatial Model," 2008 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2008, Orlando, Florida 6459, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    3. Bruce Weber & Leif Jensen & Kathleen Miller & Jane Mosley & Monica Fisher, 2005. "A Critical Review of Rural Poverty Literature: Is There Truly a Rural Effect?," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 28(4), pages 381-414, October.
    4. Mark D. Partridge & Dan S. Rickman, 2005. "High-Poverty Nonmetropolitan Counties in America: Can Economic Development Help?," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 28(4), pages 415-440, October.
    5. James, Alex & Aadland, David, 2011. "The curse of natural resources: An empirical investigation of U.S. counties," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 440-453, May.
    6. Mark D. Partridge & Dan S. Rickman, 2008. "Distance From Urban Agglomeration Economies And Rural Poverty," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(2), pages 285-310.
    7. William Levernier & Mark D. Partridge & Dan S. Rickman, 2000. "The Causes of Regional Variations in U.S. Poverty: A Cross-County Analysis," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(3), pages 473-497.
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    Cited by:

    1. David A. Fleming & Thomas G. Measham & Dusan Paredes, 2015. "Understanding the resource curse (or blessing) across national and regional scales: Theory, empirical challenges and an application," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 59(4), pages 624-639, October.
    2. Betz, Michael R. & Partridge, Mark D. & Farren, Michael & Lobao, Linda, 2015. "Coal mining, economic development, and the natural resources curse," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 105-116.
    3. repec:bla:jecsur:v:32:y:2018:i:2:p:469-490 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Joseph Marchand, 2015. "The distributional impacts of an energy boom in Western Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 48(2), pages 714-735, May.
    5. Timothy W. Kelsey & Mark D. Partridge & Nancy E. White, 2016. "Unconventional Gas and Oil Development in the United States: Economic Experience and Policy Issues," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 38(2), pages 191-214.
    6. Douglas, Stratford M. & Walker, Anne, 2012. "Sample Selection in Appalachian Research," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 42(2), pages 143-159, Summer.
    7. Joseph Marchand & Jeremy Weber, 2018. "Local Labor Markets And Natural Resources: A Synthesis Of The Literature," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 32(2), pages 469-490, April.

    More about this item


    natural resource curse; poverty; Appalachia;

    JEL classification:

    • O18 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Urban, Rural, Regional, and Transportation Analysis; Housing; Infrastructure
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty

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