Ohio’s rural youth crisis

By Ashley Bunton - Staff Columnist

Ohio’s younger generations are facing problems unprecedented in history. Already affecting billions of people are a global recession and climate change that has killed off species that in some instances has resulted in a greater than 90 percent extinction. A world-wide water shortage where, by 2020, one third of the world won’t have drinking water. The greatest economic loss and joblessness in more than 80 years that has resulted in the average person’s inability to earn enough money for shelter and food after working 50 hours a week at a minimum wage job.

These are just a few of the problems the youth of the world are facing today as they grow up. These are current issues not known of in the last century. If we want to get a better idea of what goes on in the minds of today’s young people, we need to step into the problems that the youth are facing.

The youth are inheriting a significant amount of debt. This issue is not being brought into the mainstream media for the attention it deserves. In college debt alone, America’s young people are inheriting a $1.2 trillion dollar student loan debt that grows by $2,726 each second. The whole picture is that the national debt is $19 trillion and continues to grow. On average, American families who have credit cards carry approximately $15,000 in debt.

Tens of thousands of college graduates, an estimated 30 million young adults, have moved back in with their parents because of their student loan debt or because they can’t get a job that pays enough to survive after graduating from college. Over 100 million Americans received some sort of government assisted benefits in 2014.

In southern Ohio, hundreds of thousands of families in rural areas depend on government assisted benefits just to survive. Ohio makes a lot of the top 10 lists but for the wrong reasons. It’s a state that makes the top 10 lists for things like worst air quality, worst water quality, highest number of cigarette smokers, highest rate of rare cancers, and for a number of years three of Ohio’s cities have been listed by the FBI as in the top 10 most dangerous cities in the United States.

People who live rural are the least likely to survive. According to a peer-reviewed study, people who live rural have more chronic health issues but live further away from treatment. Some never make it to get the help they need. Who wants to commute two hours for a specialist? Locally, our state waters are so polluted that a few years ago only two of them were safe for swimming and recreation. We live in food deserts. Local jobs that once sustained small rural towns are today non-existent. The remaining jobs are not sustainable and may just be enough to scrape by paycheck to paycheck.

Is it any wonder that children in rural areas are 10 times more likely to become addicted to meth than children who live in urban areas? Or is it a surprise that the suicide rate for rural youth is double that of cities?

Most of the discussions that need to take place around these issues do not happen. It doesn’t happen on mainstream media. It doesn’t happen in most schools. But there are murmurs around dinner tables. Efforts are being made to have more regular community meetings. Because what people want to do is address the problems but they all too often do not want to address what the cause of the problems are.

All too often I hear people say, “If we let the drug addicts die we wouldn’t have these problems,” or “Let’s lock those people up for stealing.” Addiction, and people who steal in order to pay for their addiction, are not the actual problem. The actual problem is the socioeconomic disaster that these people are being raised into, the same one that spends less money on education today than what was spent 50 years ago. This means people are 50 percent less educated today than they were 50 years ago. American students aren’t learning the skills and knowledge they need to compete globally.

It is not the fault of the addict for today’s socioeconomic tragedy. The addict and the theft is not the problem. They are the remainder of what is left after the problem has been equated. Like a division problem, it is one where we take the number of jobs and divide it by the number of under-educated Americans, factoring in for inflation, cost of living, and disease. The answer is poverty. Addiction and crime are the remainders.

There is today a crisis in the rural areas of Ohio. It is the crisis that underlays the issues of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and disease. It is a crisis that our youth are inheriting debt they will never repay, that they are inheriting extinction they will never revive, that they are inheriting a world in which they work harder now to survive than any other generation before them. The crisis is our youth and how we care for our youth.

Or rather, how we don’t care for our youth.

When we figure out that the youth is our crisis, then we design plans to help them succeed. We find ways to make sure they are 150 percent more educated today than the youth of 50 years ago. We figure out how to spend 150 percent more money on education today than we did 50 years ago. We figure out, through education, how to strengthen our youth’s minds, bodies, souls, and spirits. Because those are the strongest things any one of us will ever have in this life, whether we continue to spend $8 million taxpayer dollars per hour on atomic defenses or not.

To change the crisis our rural Ohio youth face will require a substantial shift in economics, yes, but long before money can shift, people need to shift. The way to change the youth in crisis is to make each and every person fully aware of their individual and collective power. Because whether or not you know it, you all have more lobbying power to change our state of affairs than a corporation.

We need to wake up from the illusion that there is nothing we can do. The far greater, and deeper reality, is that contrary to what the state looks like, it is not a fixed state. Our setbacks are temporary. We can use intelligence, compassion, love, and critical thinking to change the crisis our youth are facing today in rural Ohio. Imagine yourself finding the phone numbers to those who are in elected office and writing their phone numbers down, maybe sticking it to the refrigerator with a little magnet, and maybe it sits there for a little while before you decide to pick up the telephone. But maybe you pick up the telephone right away. “Hi, Senator,” you begin, or, “Hi Mayor.” But you place the call and you get an answer.

And you tell them what’s on your mind, and you say you want to change the state in order to help the youth survive and the generations who must grow up in crisis. You say that the crisis we are putting our youth into is the root of our problems. It is imperative that people understand this. No one will fix addiction and certainly no one will ever be able to lock up all the people who commit thefts. But as a personal lobbyist for children, you can change the crisis our youth are inheriting to make sure one less youth is affected by addiction and crime. You can do something to assure the youth will be 150 percent more educated so that they can compete globally in the marketplace of ideas. The risk for not doing something to help the youth now is that later a whole generation of people will become extinct. They simply won’t be there.

You have the power to ask for change to assure that patterns of destruction like the heroin epidemic do not accumulate across the generations any further. I hear people complaining about who the candidates for election are, but how many of those same complaining people have also been calling the currently elected officials and demanding change? They will move faster in the right direction when they realize their election depends on the votes of the people who are calling them out. Isn’t it time that we hold those elected accountable? And isn’t it time that we focus on the children and the crisis of rural youth, and all youth, who must survive in the world in which we have created for them?


By Ashley Bunton

Staff Columnist

Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton

Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton