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McDowell County is located in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. 

The economic conditions of the 1980s resulted in the loss of jobs in the primary employment area of coal mining. Due to the economic downturn, families suffered as poverty levels increased dramatically. Since 1980, 60 percent of the population has left the County, leaving approximately 20,000 people.

Challenges in the County

According to Mission of Faith statistics about McDowell County,  the following challenges exist: 

  • McDowell is the twenty-eighth poorest county in America

  • It has the fifth-highest child poverty rate

  • It has the sixth-worst health status in America

  • Unemployment persistently doubles the state rate and more than triples the national rate

  • The median family income is half the national average

  • It has one of the lowest levels of educational achievement in the nation

  • It has the highest illiteracy rates among adults in West Virginia

  • At 3.4 percent, it has one of the lowest levels of college graduates in the workforce in the nation

  • Most of the land and natural resources, 85 percent, are owned by absentee landowners


Population Decline

  • The total population of the County in 2015 was 19,885 with approximately 2,400 individuals being African-American with an additional 316 people in other minority groups.


  • Additionally, persons living in the County below the poverty level are 37.7 percent, compared to 17.9 percent for the State, indicating further that ability to seek health education and treatment is dramatically limited in the area.

These are also statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Disability Rates in the County

Another factor contributing to the significant needs of the County identified is the number of people with a diagnosed disability, age 5 and over.

  • Nationally, unemployment rates for people with disabilities approach 85 percent and higher, with no health insurance and limited financial resources.U.S.

  • Census Bureau reports the number of people with disabilities amounts to 38 percent of the County residents.

These figures dramatically support the need for innovative interventions to overcome the economic challenges in McDowell County.

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