Find Out Why People Are Desperately Escaping These 7 Kentucky Towns Now!

Kentucky, widely known as the Bluegrass State, has gained fame for its horse racing, bourbon, fried chicken, and bluegrass music. However, not all towns in Kentucky offer the same level of appeal for residents. Certain towns are grappling with population decline, economic hardships, high crime rates, and other issues that have prompted people to consider leaving. Based on the latest census data and other sources, here are seven such towns in Kentucky that are facing these challenges.

7 Kentucky Towns Facing Exodus: A Statistical Overview

Town Population Change (%) Median Household Income Poverty Rate Crime Rate (per 100,000) Key Challenges
Jenkins -28.5% $21,250 41.9% N/A Coal decline, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, environmental issues
Clay City -25.4% $25,833 35.6% 1,029 Economic hardship, low educational attainment, high crime rate
Fulton -23.8% $26,250 32.4% N/A Decline in economic prosperity, low income, low education
Lynch -22.9% $19,375 47.4% N/A Coal decline, poverty, health issues
Barbourville -21.8% $18,750 49.9% 1,456 Economic stagnation, high crime rate, poverty
West Liberty -21.6% $24,583 34.8% N/A Tornado recovery, economic hardship, low education
Marion -20.9% $29,375 28.7% 1,237 Population decline, economic stagnation, high crime rate

1. Jenkins

Jenkins, a small town located in Letcher County in the eastern part of the state, was once a vibrant community driven by coal mining. However, the industry’s decline has resulted in significant challenges such as soaring unemployment rates, poverty, and rampant drug addiction. Over the past decade, Jenkins has witnessed a staggering 28.5% decline in its population, shrinking from 2,203 in 2010 to 1,575 in 2020. The median household income stands at a mere $21,250, while the poverty rate hovers at 41.9%. Additionally, the town grapples with various environmental issues, including water contamination and air pollution.

2. Clay City

Clay City, situated in Powell County, Kentucky’s central region, is renowned for its close proximity to the Red River Gorge. This picturesque destination attracts visitors from far and wide, offering an array of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and rock climbing. Despite its allure, Clay City itself struggles to provide its residents with substantial opportunities, leading to a significant exodus from the town. Since 2010, the population of Clay City has dwindled by 25.4%, dropping from 1,077 to 803 in 2020. The town faces economic challenges, with a median household income of $25,833 and a poverty rate of 35.6%. Additionally, Clay City grapples with a concerning crime rate, witnessing 1,029 incidents of violent and property crimes per 100,000 individuals.

3. Fulton

Fulton, a town located in Fulton County, lies in the southwestern corner of the state. It is situated within the unique Kentucky Bend, an area surrounded by the Mississippi River on three sides. In the past, Fulton flourished as a prominent railroad hub and a thriving center of commerce. However, over the years, it has experienced a decline in economic prosperity. The population of Fulton has decreased by 23.8% since 2010, going from 2,445 to 1,863 in 2020. The median household income stands at $26,250, while the poverty rate amounts to 32.4%. Moreover, the town exhibits a lower educational attainment level, with only 69.9% of adults possessing a high school diploma or higher education.

4. Lynch

Lynch, situated in Letcher County, is a coal mining town located in the eastern part of the state. Established in 1917 by the U.S. Coal and Coke Company, it once thrived as the largest coal camp worldwide, accommodating a population of over 10,000 individuals. Unfortunately, the town has experienced a steady decline since the 1950s due to the diminishing coal industry and the subsequent withdrawal of the company. As a result, Lynch’s population has decreased by 22.9% since 2010, plummeting from 747 to 576 residents in 2020. In terms of financial well-being, the median household income stands at $19,375, while the poverty rate remains alarmingly high at 47.4%. Additionally, Lynch grapples with various health challenges, including obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

5. Barbourville

Barbourville, located in the southeastern part of Kentucky, serves as the county seat of Knox County. This quaint town is home to Union College, a well-regarded private liberal arts institution. Unfortunately, despite the college’s presence, Barbourville has been grappling with a decline in population and economic growth. Since 2010, the population has diminished by 21.8%, dropping from 3,159 to 2,470 in 2020. The town faces significant challenges, with a median household income of $18,750 and a poverty rate of 49.9%. Additionally, Barbourville struggles with a high crime rate, experiencing 1,456 incidents of violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents.

6. West Liberty

West Liberty, located in the eastern part of the state, serves as the county seat of Morgan County. Nestled within the picturesque Daniel Boone National Forest, the town is renowned for its stunning natural landscapes and abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. However, the community continues to grapple with the aftermath of a devastating tornado that struck in 2012, resulting in the loss of six lives and extensive damage to its infrastructure.

In the years since the disaster, West Liberty has experienced a decline in population, with a decrease of 21.6% from 2010 to 2020. The town’s current population stands at 2,693, down from 3,435. Furthermore, the economic landscape reflects the challenges faced by the community, with a median household income of $24,583 and a poverty rate of 34.8%.

Additionally, educational attainment levels in West Liberty are below the national average. Only 70.8% of adults possess a high school diploma or higher, highlighting the need for increased educational opportunities within the town. Despite these hardships, the resilient spirit of West Liberty residents remains strong as they work towards rebuilding their beloved community and creating a brighter future for generations to come.

7. Marion

Marion, situated in the western part of the state, serves as the county seat of Crittenden County. With its proximity to the Ohio River and its role as a gateway to the Shawnee National Forest, the town holds promising potential. Unfortunately, Marion is facing various challenges, including a decline in population, economic stagnation, and social issues. Since 2010, the town has experienced a significant drop in population, decreasing by 20.9% from 3,039 to 2,402 in 2020. The median household income stands at $29,375, while the poverty rate amounts to 28.7%. Furthermore, Marion grapples with a high crime rate, with 1,237 incidents of violent and property crimes per 100,000 individuals.

Key Challenges Facing Kentucky Towns Experiencing Exodus

The seven Kentucky towns we discussed earlier are grappling with a multitude of interconnected challenges that are driving residents to seek greener pastures. Here’s a deeper dive into the main culprits:

Economic Decline:

Shrinking Industries: The decline of traditional industries like coal mining has left many towns reeling from job losses and economic stagnation. Coal towns like Jenkins and Lynch have witnessed a mass exodus as mines closed and opportunities dwindled.

Limited Job Opportunities: With the decline of traditional industries, new job creation hasn’t kept pace, leaving many residents with few options for decent-paying employment. This lack of economic diversity makes it difficult for towns to attract and retain young people and families.

Low Wages and Poverty: Even for those who find work, wages often remain stagnant and below the national average. This contributes to high poverty rates, further hindering the economic well-being of these communities.

Educational Attainment and Infrastructure:

Low Education Levels: Many of these towns struggle with low educational attainment rates, meaning fewer residents hold high school diplomas or higher education degrees. This limits their access to better job opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

dilapidated school building in Kentucky

Inadequate Infrastructure: Crumbling infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and schools, further hinders economic development and quality of life. Limited access to healthcare and other essential services also discourages people from staying.

Crime and Social Issues:

High Crime Rates: Some of these towns grapple with high crime rates, including violent crime and property crime. This creates a sense of insecurity and discourages people from raising families there.

Drug Abuse and Addiction: Drug abuse and addiction are prevalent in some of these towns, further exacerbating social and economic problems. This can lead to increased crime rates, family breakdown, and health issues.

Environmental Concerns:

Environmental Degradation: Some towns face environmental challenges like water contamination and air pollution, often linked to past industrial activity. This can negatively impact the health and well-being of residents and make the area less attractive to live in.

Climate Change: Climate change is also posing new challenges, with increased flooding and extreme weather events causing damage and disrupting livelihoods.

Lack of Community Development and Amenities:

Limited Amenities: Many of these towns lack the amenities and attractions that people, especially young families, seek. This can include limited access to quality healthcare, retail stores, restaurants, and recreational activities.

Shrinking Civic Engagement: As populations decline, so does civic engagement and community spirit. This can make it difficult to attract new residents and businesses and to advocate for improvements.

It’s important to remember that these challenges are complex and interconnected. Addressing them will require a multi-pronged approach that involves government intervention, community development initiatives, and private sector investment. By focusing on economic revitalization, education, infrastructure improvements, and creating a more vibrant and safe environment, these Kentucky towns can begin to reverse the exodus and build a brighter future for their residents.


People are leaving these towns in Kentucky as quickly as they can for a variety of reasons, including population decline, economic difficulties, crime, and environmental concerns. Although some of these towns may have historical or cultural importance, they are not attractive places to live for the majority of people. Consequently, they will probably continue to lose residents and encounter additional difficulties in the coming years.

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MBS Staff
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