In West Virginia, the people of McDowell County can’t get jobs, and recently lost their biggest employer – the local Walmart store. They describe the devastating loss of jobs, community and access to fresh food
...Given her mother’s health issues, Nicole Banks tries to compensate for Walmart’s departure by seeking out fresh fruit and vegetables in the surrounding area. But it’s not easy. The nearest replacement store, Goodsons, is too expensive, she says, and other Walmarts are an hour’s drive away along Appalachian roads that are as tightly coiled as the copperhead snakes that live in the local forest.
Already, she spends half her $1,200 post-tax monthly salary on car insurance and repayments, and gas for the long drive for groceries eats into the little that is left. So she and her mom grab food where they can, opting for less pricey meals of hamburgers or spaghetti rather than fresh salad that takes another big chunk out of her income.
It’s not great for her mother’s health, but then Nicole thinks that’s typical for McDowell County people since Walmart left town. She has noticed that processed foods seem popular again; there are long lines again at the local McDonald’s.
“There’s a lot of people getting sick since the store closed because they’re not getting the right diet. It’s sad to me, but bad food is cheap.”
Nicole Banks is the first person in her family to go to college. With a degree in sociology, how would she sum up the impact of Walmart leaving?
She pauses to think for a while, and when she replies, she does so with unexpected vehemence. “It’s ridiculous,” she says. “People round here can’t get healthcare, they can’t get jobs and now the good food has gone. We are not getting our basic needs met. People are dying young.”
Banks is not exaggerating. Of the 3,142 counties in the US, McDowell County comes in at No 3,142 in terms of life expectancy. For men, that’s 64 years, a statistic that, as Bernie Sanders likes to point out, is the same for men in Namibia.
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