Kids wait in the bleachers as their parents rehearse in a community theater in Lynch, KY. Life under austerity. For more than a hundred years, coal anchored families to the mountain hollows of eastern Kentucky. But a dying mining industry, and government austerity, has left folks chasing any rumor, any scrap, any whiff of a job that’s still to be had.
The hurt is around every corner in places like Harlan, Ky., as the global market thumbed its nose at central Appalachian coal. The unemployment rate is as high as 18 percent.
And just when residents needed it most, Congress pared back the safety net that’s there to catch them. Federally funded programs that retrained miners, fed the poor and helped the elderly have been put on the chopping block thanks to sequestration cuts, budget fights and partisan politics. Left behind is a stricken landscape and a community struggling to stay together.
Photographer Peter van Agtmael spent time in eastern Kentucky documenting the daily life of these struggling communities.