Bell Co. hit by list

A recent study conducted by 24/7 Wall St. found the 50 worst counties in America for quality of life. The article cites that years of economic decline, unemployment and public health issues have yet to see any significant improvement in many areas of the U.S. The decline of the coal mining business was also referenced. Of the 50 counties represented, 14 of them are in eastern Kentucky of four of those of in the top 10 — No. 10 being Bell County.

Neighboring counties such as Clay, Knox and Letcher all made the ranking.

To determine the list, an index of three socioeconomic factors was made — rate of poverty, percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree and life expectancy at birth. For Bell County, unemployment is at 6.1 percent, the poverty rate is 36.6 percent and the life expectancy is 72.7 years old.

The cites a statistic that college educated adults are more likely to lead longer, healthier and more financially stable lives. In Bell County, only one in 10 adults have a bachelors degree — and only 68.1 percent have a high school diploma, which makes it one of the lowest stats of its kind of any county in the U.S.

While these numbers can appear disheartening, statistics alone do not represent a city.

Local native and director of tourism for Bell County, Jon Grace feels that these kinds of studies fail to reflect the human aspect of Middlesboro and Bell County in general.

“Studies like this always make me shake my head. As someone born and raised here, but who has also lived in half a dozen other places and traveled extensively, I’ll be the first to say that our home isn’t nearly as bad as studies like this try to classify us as. Any study that tries to gauge someone’s personal happiness or mental well-being based on two or three socioeconomic factors isn’t something I put a lot of confidence in. That’s not to say I’m naive to the fact that we, like a lot of communities, don’t have a lot of really serious issues we have to overcome. We definitely do, and probably are at a bigger disadvantage than most. I just think that “happiness” is as subjective a term as there can be, and it can’t be quantified by anyone other than yourself. I myself can’t ever imagine living anywhere other than southeast Kentucky,” he said.

The study can be found at