In Focus: Poverty and the American Dream

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Appalachian Ohio

The counties in Appalachian Ohio are some of the poorest places in the state.

Not only that, but there are very high unemployment numbers.

In Ohio 7.1% of people are unemployed, which is just below the national average of 7.6%.

But in Southeast Ohio most counties are much higher than that.  

The unemployment rate in Appalachian Ohio ranges from just under 8% to nearly 13%.

A good example of some of the range in rates in Appalachia are counties Athens, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan Washington, and Logan.  But the rise and fall of the rates go much beyond that.  

Thoma Terry’s Story

Thoma Terry is a man who is homeless, living in the Timothy House.

The Timothy House is a homeless shelter in Athens County.

Terry got out of prison November 25th, 2012 and has been staying at the house ever since.  

Terry wasn’t always living life in poverty, when he was younger he says his family was middle class.

““We were middle class I guess one would say. Hard working, go to church on Sunday. The typical nuclear black family.”

Terry used to have his own home in Athens, Ohio and was working toward another degree.

All of that changed he was arrested for forgery, something Terry says he didn’t do.

“I was charged for something that I could not have done, and proven that I could not have done it. But still found guilty by the jury.”

Since being out of prison, Terry goes to the Work Station, a place unemployed people can come to get help for jobs.

He has plans to move and go to school to work for Rolex, until then he says he is going to keep on trying.

“You could be as good as you wish to be but there’s always someone out there who don’t want you to be as good as you wish you could be.”


Nick Claussen is the Community Relations Coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services, which runs the work station. Claussen says they offer many services there.

“We do a lot of things here at the work station. Everything is free too. We help people with job searches, we help fill out resumes, get applications ready.  There’s a jobs board where people can look for work. We have a computer lab where people can look for jobs online.  We have some clothes if they need clothes for an interview. We also do adult education, help you prepare for the GEDs”

Terry had help from the Work Station, but he says that adjusting back into society isn’t always easy.

The Work Station has a service to help people in Terry’s position specifically.

The Work Station is one of the many places that people can go to find help in Appalachia.  


People in need can go to Friends and Neighbors, who is partnered up with food banks.

Job and Family Services runs many programs and can help people in need.

Good Works has many places where people without homes can stay.  

Along with the Timothy House, Good Works runs places like the Country Bed & Breakfast, the Hannah House, and the Carter Cabin.

View Places for Help in Southeastern Ohio in a larger map

Jessica Runyon’s Story:

Jessica Ruynon is a single mother who is unemployed.

Runyon says that she has had problems with keeping jobs.

“I’ve worked at different jobs. I’ve worked in fast food. I had a paper route and it was just basically a headache and I think it was costing me money in the end. Then I worked at Avalanche Pizza delivering pizzas. I worked there for 11 days and somebody slammed on their breaks in front of me and I hit them. So I went to work the next day and they were like, well we have to terminate you because you got into a car accident.”

Ruynon also says that being a single mother to her five year-old daughter, Camryn Forsyth, makes it harder to keep a job.

“Things will come up. Like when I worked at Avalanche and my sister is sick and can’t come watch her. And then I’m late to work because I’m trying to figure out what I can do.”

Nick Claussen is the Community Relations Coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services says that there is a stigma when dealing with unemployment and cash assistance, like Runyon gets.

“People have this idea of welfare and cash assistance and people getting all this money and not doing anything at all and it’s not true at all. We don’t give people nearly enough money that they need to survive. We make people jump through a lot of hoops, paper work they have to fill out. All these work requirements we have.”

And Ruynon says that she has felt it too.

“This woman just kind of, she treated her mean and that just really upset me. And yeah, I know some people will just live off of welfare and stuff until they can’t do it anymore. But it’s like. I was trying and I was going to school and stuff and she just kind of treated me like dirt.”

Runyon says that she won’t give up though. She’s work to pay off her student loans so she can go back to school in the fall. Until then, she says she is stuck in a rut.