A model for addressing a region of severe poverty that crosses state lines already exists. The Appalachian Regional Commission was established to address dire poverty across Appalachia, a mountainous region crossing 13 states.
The current conditions on the US-Mexico border are even worse than those in Appalachia 50 years ago; it makes sense that a Border Development Commission be established now to support long-term, community-led development.
The Appalachian Regional Commission
In the late 1950’s, the Appalachian region endured extreme economic distress. At the time:
- One of every three Appalachians lived in poverty
- Per capita income was 23 percent lower than the U.S. average
- High unemployment and harsh living conditions had, in the 1950s, forced more than 2 million Appalachians to leave their homes and seek work in other regions.
The Region’s governors formed the Conference of Appalachian Governors to develop a regional approach to resolving these problems and took their case to newly elected President John F. Kennedy.
President Kennedy formed a federal-state committee that came to be known as the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission, which he charged with drafting “a comprehensive program for the economic development of the Appalachian Region.”
As a result of these efforts, the Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA) was passed early in 1965 by a broad bipartisan coalition and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Appalachian Regional Commission: Program Areas
The Appalachian Regional Commission’s strategic plan has four goals and corresponding program areas:
1) Increase job opportunities and per capita income in Appalachia to reach parity with the nation;
2) Strengthen the capacity of the people of Appalachia to compete in the global economy;
3) Develop and improve Appalachia’s infrastructure to make the Region economically competitive;
4) Build the Appalachian Development Highway System to reduce Appalachia’s isolation.
Each year Appalachian Regional Commission provides funding for several hundred projects in the Appalachian Region in a wide range of program areas, including: asset-based development, community infrastructure, health, energy, education, and leadership development.
A Regional Approach is Needed at the U.S.-Mexico Border
Scholars, state officials, and community groups all agree that regional policies are needed to address the severe poverty of the border region.
An understanding of the region’s assets is also important, particularly community-based development groups that understand conditions on the ground and have been excluded from traditional funding streams.
Numerous studies document that the integration and active participation of women in the development process is critical. Border women workers must lead development efforts.
In addition, development must begin within the social and cultural framework of each community in order to ensure the investment is sustainable and long lasting.
Conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border are critical. Concentrated poverty at the U.S.-Mexico border must be addressed now.