Thriving, not just surviving in Page County

Main Street Luray
Main Street in Downtown Luray, Virginia

By Jack “Alex” White III, columnist ~ “Small towns, big potential”

Much of the debate around Page County’s economy revolves around two factors: the nearly 4,000 county residents in poverty and what it takes to help them survive.

Like most things, the issue is so much deeper than just giving people the chance to “squeak by” with a bare minimum standard of living. As long as that is our goal, then we are “barking up the wrong tree.” A community of people that is hanging by a thread can fall just as easily.

We need to ask ourselves what it takes to actually thrive in Page County. What level of income does it take to put a roof over your head, feed healthy food to your kids, and actually live life?

Thankfully, there is a Family Budget Calculator that can tell us exactly that. Unsurprisingly, it shows that a good life in Page County cannot be lived on many of the jobs in the area… much less those limited jobs that are the only ones available to workers without higher skills.

That is because an average-size family requires $59,749 a year to really make it in our county.

To put that into perspective, the median household income in Page County (the income that most families are close to) is almost $10,000 lower than that. This means that everyone from low income families to middling ones is at risk of not being able to fully address their needs.

In fact, a family of two adults and one child in Page County would have to spend an estimated $723 on housing, $600 on food, $545 on child care, $1,141 on transportation, $755 on health care, $681 in taxes, and $534 on other necessities every month in order to achieve what the Economic Policy Institute considers to be “a modest yet adequate standard of living.” 

(You can find out more about the methodology behind those community-specific estimates using this tool if you search data for a two-adult, one-child family in Page County, Virginia.) 

What should we make of this? For starters, it should cause us to step back and take stock of what changes can actually make a difference in our community. Since low-paying jobs do not allow the average family to enjoy the above, it is clear that there must be more to the equation.

That might include being more aggressive in courting high-paying jobs (and encouraging local entities who are already here to create more of their own). Ideally, these jobs — public and private — would be the kinds of good, blue-collar jobs on which an unspecialized worker can live.

There are still other ways to advance the ball on that; they include continuing to expand opportunities for workers to learn new skills, supporting our public schools, and even creating teleworking centers for locals to take advantage of good-paying remote opportunities.

Short of that, this also means investing in the local institutions that guarantee access to nutrition, child development, and health care regardless of a family’s income (like Page One, Page County Public Schools, the Rec Center, the Page County Free Clinic, and countless others). 

There are huge barriers — monetary and geographic — to creating real opportunities for thriving. Nonetheless, the work is necessary, because life should not be lived paycheck to paycheck.

After all, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is only possible when people are not struggling to get by.

Jack “Alex” White III is the Executive Director of the Rural Leadership Initiative and the District 1 Representative on the Page County Economic Development Authority — where he was reported to have been “Virginia’s youngest government official” at the time of his appointment.

Alex is a lifelong native of Page County, a graduate of Luray High School

and is currently enrolled at Harvard University.

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36 Comments

  1. You’re assuming the “poor” are unhappy with the way they live?
    I think most don’t care. If they did, they’d try harder to make something of themselves.

    • While this may be true in some cases, we have to ask where did the apathy originate? And we also have to acknowledge that with so many potential causes of such a plight, it’s not always just a case of “working harder”… to firmly believe that is the only answer is to firmly show a perspective of priviledge.

    • I would also like to flag that this column covers plenty of folks who would be considered “middle class” – a group that is often in as much of a squeeze, if not more of one, than anyone else…

    • Some people may not be able to make something of themselves. I used to be poor, no money, barley had a roof over my head, and my grandmother couldn’t work because she was to busy taking care of my brother and myself. So next time you want to criticize someone because they’re poor, just think about that. What if that was you, would you want someone to criticize you because your poor?

      • This is such a great point Allie, and I thank you for reading and sharing your experience – you’re exactly right!

  2. Until everyone gets access to real high speed broadband, remote work is a joke in Page County. I struggle with doing work on a 3 MB DSL LINE!

    • Amen to that El! A teleworking space could be built in the few areas in town with good connection, but there could be nothing better than seeing good broadband everywhere in our county.

      • High speed broadband will cure hunger, homelessness, spouse abuse, driving while intoxicated, lying, cheating, stealing, racism, plagiarism, laziness, lack of initiative, flatulence, and many other things. We are doomed without high speed broadband.

  3. In my opinion the geography of the county is a large hinderance, reality is page is hard to get to compared to other localities. Wages are just a lot lower locally.
    So is real estate, you can buy a house here for what a condo costs in N Va

    Now for a typical high school grad, no college the reality is and it may not be fair, but if you want to climb out of poverty, live a middle class lifestyle or better you’re going to have go towards the city for a decent paying job.

    And a word of experience is that 2-3 hrs in a car, truck or van sucks, it is not a priviledge, but it’s what you have to do to survive and support your family decently. Nobody wants to do it.
    You can ask any of these tradespeople, they would love to take a young person under their wing to train and pass on the knowledge so the next generation can learn and earn a living/trade rather than stand at a food bank or worse yet start down the drug abuse road.
    A comment like “it’s not always just a case of “working harder”… to firmly believe that is the only answer is to firmly show a perspective of priviledge.”
    Is kind of a slap in the face to the blue collar workers who do exactly that every day out of necessity and feed their families.

    • Road Warrior makes some great points – supporting our trades is too often ignored, and it is a way to get folks into good paying jobs close to home. One way of achieving that can be through funding our public schools and technical center so that we can funnel more students into appropriate programs where they can “put in the work” to build a sustainable life in the trades!

    • I think you misunderstood my comment…imagination a situation in which physical or mental disabilities were a key factor in being poor… in those cases, it may not simply be a case of “working harder”… some people face difficult problems… which is why I stated there may be multiple causes for their poverty… my comment had nothing to do with the blue collar worker trying to get by…

      • So you think there are that many mentally and physically disabled people in Page? That sounds like it’s coming from a position of priviledge, reaching down with a benevolent soft furry paw to help the poor fools who aren’t as good as them.

      • It seems unreasonable for this article to avoid mentioning all we have done as a nation for the family with a disability. Your analysis should consider if these are insufficient to the need and if so, why: SSI-disability (where one in 14 potential American workers abides), food stamps, the rural rental assistance program, heating assistance, Medicare, food banks, gasoline vouchers, free national park passes, many college tuition grant programs, tax credits for the disabled, tax credits for the poor, free schoolbreakfast and lunches, the summer free food program for when schools are not in session, child care subsidy program, subsidized internet service, grants to receive skills training, Women, Infant and Children nutrition program, prescription drug benefit low income subsidy, the individual and family support program. Not to mention all of the support available from churches and charitable organizations.

        • Mr. Merton – your input is appreciated! Nonetheless, with the exception of disability/SSI/NPS, those programs are means-tested. I.E. they help the poorest people, while the middle class is still left in a squeeze… Those programs are still great examples of things that we can extend to more working people though!

          • I was responding to Mr. Arrington who, in a comment above, framed your argument for more taxpayer spending in terms of families with disabilities. He specifically excluded ‘blue collar workers trying tro get by.’. In which case for most of those programs the disability condition triggers eligibility.

    • This isn’t a slap in the face to blue collar workers, if anything this is the kind of boost that blue collar workers need. The families that work extremely hard everyday, and still are living beneath the standard in Page County. Not because they aren’t working hard, but because the wages are too low. This narrative doesn’t fit every family, but by starting to look at ways to improve the county, families could really benefit. Not everything can be answered with “just work harder.” As the article mentioned, innovative programs would be a great start!

      • Genny – thank you for the kind words and recognition of the problem! There are so many people all the way up into the middle class who work hard yet still struggle to make ends meet…

  4. Supporting the trades is a major key to getting people into good jobs close to home – too many people forget that in the relentless push towards college!

  5. Groups of workers either the same occupation or employer do not have a method of working together to improve conditions they work under. This has made them powerless to their employer. Until workers can bond together as a voice as they did in the union era employers will give workers as little as possible. Right to work really means FOR LESS! “Democracy in Chains”

    • Blue collar unions built the middle class, full stop! Is it any coincidence that the decline of private sector unions has marked a period of wage stagnation (even as workers are more productive than ever before)…

  6. I think the government is doing more than enough to help the 4000 “poor”. The left and the liberals that support them have, and are still trying, to destroy family life, religious belief, the wotk ethic, the education system, and just generally brainwashing the young to believe everything that makes the US better than any other nation is all wrong.
    Right now all that is focused into Critical Race Theory which fits perfectly, the definition of what a bigot is.
    Just think, if white people had never existed on earth there wouldn’t be any Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and just about everything else people touch every day. Go ahead. Don’t censor this. Prove me wrong.

  7. Oh! I see you couldn’t take it and censored my posts. Are you a communist?
    Makes you feel powerful doesn’t it?

  8. I personally like Page county, I’ve lived here over 30 years. It’s cheaper to live here housing and tax wise. The people are generally friendly, a lot less crime, and less of a rat race, you can enjoy the natural resources right in your own backyard. I’ve driven for years up the road and enjoy a decent lifestyle, it’s just what you need to do. When they shut down the plants here, there wasn’t any of them paying very well, I’m just guessing 8-10 dollars an hour? And those jobs went overseas. You can complain about it, but it is what it is, and you move on to find a way to succeed. One idea may be training young folks for handyman services for all the cabins built or being built that will need to be maintained and will be no small task. We do have an obligation to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves but not to those who are able and choose not to.

    • Road Warrior – No place I would rather be born and raised! Leveraging our unique status as a tourist/cabin destination is always a great thought (hopefully with more stable, higher-wage jobs than that usually denotes). Your suggestion of working on training would be a great start in doing that, and it is something we have been working on at the EDA!

  9. In order to have higher wages you have to have something somebody wants, provided by a company that can market it.
    The less demand, the less money. Get it?
    Just giving people money for nothing incentivizes indolence, sloth, and dumbness.

    • That is probably why no one in this article or comment section has said anything about free money… But they have said a lot about better training, etc. – things that can help potential employees be able to offer a skill that “somebody wants”…

      • I thought that was what family life, secondary education, and religious education was for. You know, train the young to guide themselves. Without these supports “training” isn’t enough.
        Getta Lift that way.

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