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Rural communities getting hit by inflation in Eastern Kentucky

ford rural inflation
Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 19:17:26-04

POWELL COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The impact of inflation has made life tougher for people living in rural communities like Stanton.

Judge Executive James Anderson Jr. says the impact may be even greater because of unique challenges like driving long distances for work, medical services, and other goods.

“We’ve been very fortunate over the last several years to attract as well as retain a lot of good jobs that are affording many more of our citizens the opportunity now to work within our community and not to have to drive as far as they had to in years past, but many still have to make trips outside of the community for other needs such as for medical procedures,” said Anderson.

Researcher with Iowa State University, professor Dave Peters says transportation is the biggest inflationary impact on rural households. Peters studies the effect from 2020 to 2022 and found that expenses increased by 9.2% while income only increased by 2.6%.

Jackie Batty grew up in Powell County. She moved back five years ago to be closer to her family in Stanton. However, the home the family of five was living in is deteriorating and she’s been struggling to find a new affordable place.

“Every time we look for a place to find it's either turned into an Airbnb or the person can't remodel or fix the home because inflation is so much and they can't afford to buy drywall or whatever it might be to fix the house in need,” said Batty.

She says she’s been looking for three years now.

Anderson says there’s no doubt with inflation and the increase in building materials, housing is becoming more expensive. However, he feels the county is still more affordable than other places.

“While we’ve witnessed the increase in prices in the housing market, we still have more affordable housing and lower tax rates than a lot of areas nearby,” said Anderson. “That along with the natural beauty of the area and access to all manner of outdoor recreation makes us a very desirable location for many folks.”

He says because of growth in the economy, has prevented the county from having to look at taxation as a means of revenue, which has kept the county tax rates low, attracting more real estate ownership.

With the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge just a town over, tourism has increased in the area. So has the interest in Airbnb.

In 2021 Powell County Airbnb owners earned $5 million, the largest amount of any rural county in the state. You can see the breakdown below.

  • Airbnb Hosts in rural counties in the US earned over $3.5 billion over 2021 
  • In Kentucky, Hosts in rural counties earned over $27 million in 2021. 
  • The typical Airbnb Host in rural Kentucky earned over $10,000 in 2021. 
  • Thirty cities and towns in Kentucky received their first-ever Airbnb guests since the pandemic started. 

Airbnb is also sharing a breakdown of total Host income in each rural county in Kentucky, which you can see here.

While Batty believes these short-term rentals are hurting her chances to find housing, she knows how important they are to the local economy because she works to clean Airbnbs.

“You really can't blame them because they are making more money. It's good for the ones with the properties but if you're looking for a property it's a whole different ball game,” said Batty.

Located in the eastern coal field region of the state there are few major employers, and many people drive long distances to work.

Anderson says increased investment through projects like Hollerwood off-road park and Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway have added jobs and helped their economy.

“With the pandemic, we have witnessed an increase in more people who chose to visit here because of their ability to enjoy nature, be outdoors, and limit their interactions with crowds,” said Anderson. “I think now that we’re being recognized more at the state and national level for what we're doing and drawing in with tourism there, now working closer with us in efforts to expedite and help address any deficiencies we may have. This is evidenced in the funding and projects that are being rewarded to us.”

But while tourism is bringing in millions of dollars to the area, locals like Batty are questioning how much is too much.

“We're getting pushed out of our tiny little town and I don't know what to do anymore,” said Batty.

Following the trend of tourism, Batty says prices have also increased because of inflation.

She and her husband both work full-time. However, she’s now looking for a second job.

"I feel like I'm not living like my children aren't living. We're literally just surviving. We've barely got our heads above the water,” Batty said. “We shouldn't have to live this way. Not when we work so hard.”

It’s exactly how inflation has Ivan Kirby feeling. He’s lived in Stanton since the 1970s, drawn there by the slow pace.

"I mean it will make you get- I can understand people getting depressed and anxious and all that,” said Kirby.

He says living there has gotten to be expensive, nothing like it used to be. Kirby relies on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). His wife travels 100 miles a day for work outside the county. They're now spending $400 a month on gas.

"I don't know what people are supposed to do,” said Kirby.

To get by Kirby has been turning to credit cards.

"I'm thankful that I've got food on the table. It might not be exactly what I'd like to be eating but it's food, I'm fed,” he said.

Meanwhile Batty is looking elsewhere, away from her family.