Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The challenges faced by formerly incarcerated people in rural America

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. It is common knowledge that the poor and people of color are disproportionately represented within this astonishingly high number. People may be surprised, however, that rural communities are disproportionately represented as well (see this earlier blog post regarding the rise of mass incarceration in rural areas).

The collateral consequences of a record can make it impossible for someone to find employment or housing because even a minor offense can negatively affect a person’s hiring prospects. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed 1 year after being released. People living in rural areas face an even steeper challenge due to the higher rates of unemployment compared to urban areas.

Furthermore, the lack of affordable housing is already a significant issue for low-income rural residents. Formerly incarcerated individuals must also deal with public housing authorities that have broad discretion to set policies that screen out prospective tenants with criminal convictions. Anecdotally, an organization I worked for saw anyone with two misdemeanor convictions denied housing. And despite new federal guidelines, many landlords discriminate against people with criminal convictions, regardless of the type, circumstances, or age of the conviction.

Fortunately, in many instances, it is possible for formerly incarcerated individuals to clear their records, thereby restoring both housing and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, that process can be complicated and success often depends on the availability of legal assistance. Although non-profit organizations and pro bono legal efforts have started to meet this need, the overwhelming majority of this assistance is located in major urban centers. Without an expansion of legal aid in this area, this access to justice gap will simply continue to grow as more people are released from incarceration.

As an example, let's look at people with criminal records living in rural regions of California’s Central Valley. Yuba, Colusa, Sutter and Stanislaus Counties lie in the heart of the Central Valley. Although Colusa is the only county designated by the USDA as nonmetro, many parts of these counties are very rural. Other than packets of information at courthouse self-help centers, these counties have no legal organizations assisting low-income people with record clearance remedies. According to the US Census Bureau, more than 15% of the residents of these four counties live below the poverty line, with the highest being 21% in Yuba County.

The need for record clearing assistance throughout rural California is massive. Over 5 million Californians live in rural areas, and approximately 1.6 million are eligible for legal aid services, so realistically there are over 500,000 underserved individuals with a criminal history in rural California. Other states, especially those who already face a significant access to justice gap for their rural communities, also have a growing population of underserved individuals. Not only does this keep people in poverty, it also has a drain on the national economy. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that there is a loss of $78 to $87 billion in annual GDP.

However, the chances of this need being filled in the next few years are slim. Most of the organizations with the capacity to begin assisting this population are funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation, and the first draft of the Trump budget has completed eliminated the organization. Previous administrations efforts to do this have been unsuccessful, but it is likely there will be some cuts to the program forcing legal aid organizations to decrease, not expand, their efforts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where are the Natives?

According to the most recent Census data, gathered in 2010, 19.3 percent of Americans reside in rural areas. In fifteen states, more than fifty percent of the population lives in an area designated “rural” by the U.S. Census Bureau. (Note: “To qualify as an urban area [for census purposes], the territory identified according to criteria must encompass at least 2,500 people, at least 1,500 of which reside outside institutional group quarters. . . . ‘Rural’ encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.”) While the results of the latest election cycle have sparked a renewed interest in rural America (see, e.g., articles from major news outlets like the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post), historical coverage of those outside the urban norm has been decidedly sparse. Often, when attention is paid to rural places and populations, it is demonstrative of “nostalgia for our rural past,” rather than cognizance of rural present. In 2016, Tom Vilsack, the then-Secretary of Agriculture, summed up public and political interest in rural America with the comment: “I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place. . . . because people don’t pay attention to this part of the country.” Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your political affiliations), the 2016 election cycle did nothing if not effectively prove that rural America is not without political influence — as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s loss despite winning nearly 90 percent of the vote in urban cores.

If voting patterns in rural America have signaled a recoup of relevance, it is notable that the population receiving national scrutiny — the population now cashing in on its political capital — represents only a particular segment of the rural electorate. As noted in a recent post on this blog, the most popular question in America over the past month has arguably been: Who voted for Donald Trump? And news media sources have been quick to provide answers: anti-establishment voters, “rural red-county” evangelicals, and — overwhelmingly — the white, working class. Missing from this entire discussion are the roughly 3,432,000 Native American voters registered and eligible to vote in the United States.* As I’ve waded through the post-election coverage the past few weeks, I wondered, where was the Native vote?

*66 percent of the total American Indian and Alaska Natives populations — 5.2 million people by 2010 Census measures — are eligible and registered to vote.

Like many other minority groups, “Natives,” the term used by the Carsey Institute to refer to those who self-identify as American Indians or Alaska Natives, are often categorized under broad social and economic labels that fail to account for the diversity of cultural experiences and heritages that color the population. In the case of Natives, “Native voices are often grouped with all rural residents in portrayals of rural places.” To be fair, there is overlap in both the demographic and cultural predilections of Natives and non-Native rural populations.

A comparison between surveys conducted by the Carsey Institute in Native and non-Native rural communities is illustrative:

On community life:
  • A majority of rural residents describe their community as cohesive and neighborly, and local involvement in community groups and organizations is high (i.e., “Rural Americans are joiners”)
  • More than half of Natives consider daily community life integral to their identity, and exhibit “strong family attachment” and deep “familial roots” in their communities
On the natural environment and attachment to place:
  • In rural locales (with exceptions in areas experiencing resource-based decline and in chronically poor communities), natural beauty is considered “very important” with respect to living decisions, and 70 percent of rural respondents participate in hunting
  • Two-thirds of Natives cite natural beauty as a reason to remain in their communities, and 73 percent of Natives indicate hunting, gathering, and harvesting is very important to their way of life
On economics:
  • Most of the rural population (i.e., “[a]lmost everyone”) is concerned about a lack of job opportunity, and only 40 percent of rural respondents work full-time
  • Eighty-five percent of Natives are concerned about a lack of job opportunity, and across regions, a majority of Natives consider it the “most important” concern their community faces
Natives face many hardships that are (sadly) common features of the rural experience. The “vicious cycle” of substance abuse (e.g., soaring heroin use and the opiate epidemic, to name only two examples) in rural communities is mirrored in Native populations. Indeed, Natives are more likely than any other minority group to need treatment for alcohol use and illicit drug use.  Poverty rates have been higher in rural areas for decadesNatives have the highest poverty rate (28.3 percent) of any race group — a percentage that is almost double the national average. Like many rural Americans, Natives living on reservations lack complete plumbing (8.6% versus the national average of .5%) and access to a telephone (18.9% versus the national average of 3.7%) at higher rates. Natives are also more likely to experience overcrowding in the home, Native women are two times more likely to be the victims of rape or attempted rape, and reservation roadways are some of the most underdeveloped in the nation.

But despite their similarities, Natives also face unique challenges that are simply not shared by most of rural America. The most notable is disenfranchisement. Though the Indian Citizenship Act extended voting rights to Natives in 1924, voting restrictions were not eliminated in every state until as late as 1970 (Colorado was one of the last states to remove literacy test requirements for Natives). The combination of historical discrimination and existing access obstacles has meant that Natives continue to have some of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. In the most recent national election, Natives found themselves subject in many places to discriminatory ballot-collection laws, “questionable poll judge behavior,” and a dearth of polling sites. In Arizona, for example, a state with the largest concentrated Navajo population, voters waited over five hours to cast their ballots — and that’s after a commute of four hours to even reach the nearest polling station from the Navajo Nation reservation.

It would seem that Natives have been missing from the 2016 election discourse not (only) because of their negligible impact, but — heartbreakingly — because they continue to be functionally excluded in far too many places.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Child abuse prevention: one size may not fit all rural communities

Child Welfare Services' work preventing child abuse has a long, complex, and sometimes ugly history.  Constitutional legal issues arise when a state actor intervenes in family matters, and state involvement in such personal matters has sparked heavy debate over the years. 

Child Welfare Services did not begin as a state agency. In the mid 1800s, a man named Charles Brace founded the Children's Aid Society in New York. By the 1900s, this society was established in many cities on the East Coast. Brace believed that poor children living in urban areas should be 'saved' by placing them in christian homes out in rural "country" areas.  Trainloads of poor urban children were removed from their families and shipped to the Midwest and upstate New York in order to learn "morality" and "good work habits." Before long, similar organizations began to crop up, creating a network of "free" foster homes in which children were expected to pay for room and board through their labor. During this time, arrangements for children who were moved "for their safety" and those moved because they were deemed "delinquent" were not differentiated. 

Throughout the 1900s, more formalized institutions began to appear, and the goals and policies continued to evolve and change.

In 1958, congress amended the Social Securities Act, mandating that states provide funds to child abuse prevention. In the 1980s, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as well as the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. These laws required the nation's child welfare organizations to prevent child abuse by offering family support services and reunification services to families who are struggling. Both urban and rural families face stressors that can impact the wellness of children, including: addiction, mental health challenges, alcohol dependency, and family violence. Rural families are more likely to experience one or more of these stressors. If the harm or threat to the child is deemed too severe for the child to remain in the home,  reunification service, designed to support families as they cope with these stressors, are offered.  The goal is to allow children to grow up in the care of their parents, if possible.

Child Protective Services' (CPS) involvement with a family begins with a report, generally from a community member, or someone who is required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse. Then, a social worker investigates that report to see if the harm or abuse is substantiated. If substantiated (the meaning of "substantiated" could vary depending on state law or county practice), CPS will intervene. This means that they will ask the caregiver(s) to get involved in community services (such as parenting classes, substance abuse meetings, etc). Sometimes CPS will remove the child and place him or her in foster care.  

Today, child welfare organizations exist in every state, with services in every county. The majority of families involved with CPS continue to be poor, and rural families are affected differently than urban ones. In rural areas, wealthier families (those with incomes at 200% of the poverty level and above) are much more likely to have a report substantiated than urban families of the same income level. Families in rural areas who have caregivers that are experiencing domestic violence or have cognitive impairments are more likely to have a report substantiated than similarly situated urban children. Perhaps this is because rural families are more likely to experience the pressures of poverty and other stressors. Indeed, 10% more rural caregivers than urban caregivers involved in CPS report experiencingn some kind of family stress. Further, more rural parents report trouble paying for basic necessities rural areas than urban parents do.  The Carsey Institute attributes these numbers to the chronic stressors that many rural families face, paired with isolation and a lack of services in rural areas. It is also important to note that the implementation of family support services and guidelines for what  "substantiation" means vary between child welfare organizations. It is certainly not clear that these statistics reflect more abuse and neglect occurring in rural areas. What is clear, is that rural families face difficult stressors, namely poverty, which can greatly impact children.

This leaves us with an open question: are child welfare organizations catering their services to the unique needs of rural communities? Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

School choice without choices

After much opposition, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary on Tuesday, February 7, 2017. Chris Loss, an education-policy professor at Vanderbilt, points to the nation-wide reaction to DeVos as "evidence of just how mainstream education has become--unlike more arcane policy issues like housing and energy, issues that seem kind of abstract to the average voter. Education is pretty immediate, it's pretty visceral."

As education policy becomes more mainstream, so too does attention to parts of public education that have been often overlooked--including rural schools. (For previous blog posts on this issue, see this, this, and this.) While DeVos's appointment concerns a number of Americans throughout all settings in the country, advocates are especially worried about what her appointment will mean for rural schools. DeVos is notoriously a proponent of "school choice," which, as this blog hopes to further develop, may not amount to much of a choice for rural students.

Rural schools serve over 40% of U.S. students, but only receive 22% of federal funding. Further, rural schools have a critical shortage of teachers and often employ teachers who are not licensed in the subjects they teach. It is difficult to recruit and retain teachers because the pay is low, housing is sparse, and working conditions are difficult. Rural students are "likelier than their peers to live in poverty" and only 27% go on to college. Yet when students do go on to college, rural schools have been called "engines of exodus." The "brain drain" phenomenon leads not only to educated students leaving rural areas (see other posts here), but also exhausts rural resources. "If high school graduates or college graduates leave the local community to work and pay taxes elsewhere, then the community does not derive a benefit from its investment."

During DeVos's confirmation hearing, two Republican Senators questioned how changes would affect rural states where there are "distance issues students in frontier areas combat to physically get to non-public schools," concerns about when there is no way to get to an alternate option, and the issues that there are "simply fewer students to populate new schools" resulting in an "unequal demand for charter schools." DeVos responded vaguely, saying that individual states would design polices for the rural communities, but she envisions more distance learning and online courses. However, the National Education Policy Center has referenced the outcomes of online learning as negative "across the board" (See the full policy report here.) Further, rural areas often struggle with access to the internet, making this proposal impossible to introduce.

In rural settings, there are few charter or private school alternatives. Karen Eppley, editor of the Journal in Rural Research and Educationexplains that a large portion of rural charter schools were formed by community members in responds to school closures and consolidations. This is a very different set-up than the urban and suburban charters that are run by large-scale management companies, such as KIPP. Accordingly, it seems that rural charter schools are generally created out of necessity, not because of competition or to offer an alternative "choice" to the public schools in the area. The private schools in rural areas are often deeply religious, which, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, means they aren't an option for everyone.

Eric Steeves, a superintendent of a rural school in Maine, insists, "If you shut down schools, you destroy a town." As is common in rural schools, Steeves wears may hats. Other than superintendent, he is also the school's guidance counselor, works on the curriculum, and teachers remedial social studies. He is married to the school principal, who is also the library media specialist and the food services director. In small towns or rural areas, the public school can be the "social anchor" of the community. In addition to being a major employer, the school can provide services unavailable anywhere else, such as sports, summer lunch programs, and food pantries.

The school choice and voucher programs would "siphon away critical funding" from rural schools as parents opt out of public school take their taxpayer dollars with them. Steeves believes that DeVos's policies would be "disastrous" and "catastrophic" for schools like his. The impact is well illustrated by the nearest town's school superintendent: "Every time I lose a student somewhere it's five or six thousand dollars," and when "you lose seven students, that's a teaching position." Not only would his school lose tuition money, but Steeves fears they would have to bus students over an hour away to other schools in rough weather conditions. These changes could lead to many school closures in rural states with few options left over for the students living in rural communities.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Remembering Ram's "Farmer"

Viewers across the world remark that the Super Bowl, which is "so uniquely American," provides a rare window into American culture by combining the drama of sports, the universal appeal of music, and a healthy dose of patriotism. This blog recently featured another post focusing on American nationalism featured in Super Bowl rhetoric.

Many people annually watch the game, anxiously awaiting to see which team is named National Football League (NFL) Champion (note: I generally watch for the ads and half-time show). While the Super Bowl is known as the ultimate competition for American sports, the American Marketing Association describes the Super Bowl as "the ultimate competition for marketers."

When watching the Super Bowl this year as a law student studying ruralism, I could not help but reminisce about Ram Truck's famous 2013 Super Bowl ad, titled "Farmer."  The ad, which aired on February 3, 2013 during Super Bowl XLVII, featured a recording of Paul Harvey's speech "So God Made a Farmer."

Harvey worked as a American radio broadcaster for ABC Radio Networks for 51 years, and he was known for his segment "The Rest of the Story." Harvey, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was often referred to as "the voice of Middle America" and "the voice of the Silent Majority" by the media for his "flag-waving conservatism." According to Bruce DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Harvey turned down multiple offers to broadcast on the East Coast so he could “stay in touch with his listeners and the American people.”

Harvey delivered his speech at a 1978 Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention. The speech acts as an extension of the Genesis creation narrative, referring to God's actions on the 8th day of creation.  In his speech, Harvey described the characteristics of a farmer in each phrase, ending them with the recurring "So God Made a Farmer." See Harvey's entire speech here.

The Ram commercial began with a stark photograph of a single cow in front of a snowy field, and Harvey’s voice saying, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker. So God made a farmer.” The ad depicted a simple slideshow of rural photographs, featuring imagery including: a black and white chapel in an empty field, aged and rugged farmers with split fingernails and tired faces, rustic farm houses with American flags, farmers working the land, livestock, views of virtually endless crop fields, generations of rural people, and a family praying around the dinner table.

One of the photographers that contributed to the images featured in the add, Andy Anderson, reflected on his involvement:
A transcendent project unlike any that I have worked on. 10 photographers capturing on there own terms the life of a farmer and rancher. All of us searching for meaningful images. Not any one photo rising above any others, but collectively voicing a message for folks and a vocation we have all really taken for granted. The last truly archetypical American worker. And who better else to match the images with than Paul Harvey…America’s grandfather.
The ad debuted during the Super Bowl in conjunction with Ram's "Year of the Farmer," which focused on praising the hardworking men and women who feed and clothe the nation and world.

According to NPR, the ad was part of Ram's partnership with the National FFA Organization (formerly the Future Farmers of America) aimed at "highlighting and underscoring the importance of farmers in America." Ram announced that it would donate $1 million to the National FFA Organization if it received 10 million views of the commercial on its website. The ad surpassed 10 million views in less than a week, and Ram presented the $1 million donation to Clay Sapp, the then National FAA president.

While the ad was praised as one of 2013's best Super Bowl ads for its gorgeous still images and focus on the consumer over the product, the ad was not without criticism. One critic stated:
The last farmer in the video is driving what appears to be a 9R John Deere tractor. That comes in at about $250,000-380,000. If his land is good quality. . . it’s likely to be about $5000 an acre. If he has a dairy, the family has been using artificial insemination for at least fifty years. . . . He uses computer software to manage the farm. He has a global positioning system to help him manage crops. . . . He’s a business man. He has to stay on top of the market. . . .  if we continue to accept the kind of images promoted by this ad, images of the farmer as a good hearted chap, working with the technology of the late 1930s, and thus not frightfully smart, how are we ever going to get a sensible grip on agriculture?
This criticism implies that the ad portrays farmers in a way compatible with the stereotypes of rural America and farmers, without giving credit to technological advances and modern realities in the agriculture business. Other negative feedback focused on the fact that the video featured predominately white farmers, thus failing to paint an accurate picture of the diversity of famers in America.

While Ram's visual portrayal of the farmer may not constitute a completely accurate depiction of rural America, the ad successfully brought attention to a large population of Americans on a national stage.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The importance of difference: why we leave big cities for rural homogeneity

In my last post, I discussed "the brain drain," and what it can look like when young, educated people move away from their rural home communities, and never end up returning. In this post, I'm addressing essentially the opposite effect: when we choose to leave the larger, more urban regions for smaller, more insulated rural communities, do we do so especially because we are seeking homogeneity of beliefs and values on some level?

This NPR article certainly points towards the conclusion that in many instances, people do leave urban areas in search of people with "similar political stripes." The most oft-cited statistics about moving to, or back to, rural areas often include things like family needs, safety, and cost of living. A need for political affirmation and support from the surrounding community is certainly much harder to quantify, but perhaps that particular factor deserves our attention now more than ever.

More sinister than the search for political affirmation is something colloquially termed "white flight" wherein the white population intentionally leaves large cities for the "solace" of the suburbs, or rural communities, where they can depend on the community being largely of the same race.

As much of the nation found itself stunned after the events of November's election, there were certainly some pockets of the population that were decidedly less incredulous about the result. In communities where people of the same race and/or political creed make an active effort to band together, a certain homogeneity of opinion and voting behavior necessarily emerges, as an inherent result of so much "sameness." Rural communities generally do not reflect the larger population proportions, and once considered from that angle, something like the election outcome seems a little less "left field." To understand the direction our nation as a whole is headed in, it is important to understand the reasons for movement between big cities to ruralities, and vice versa. These patterns of migration, so to speak, deserve more than a passing glance.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Preemption: wedge in the urban-rural divide or mutually unjust imperfect legal doctrine?

Based in the supremacy clause of the Constitution, preemption is the principle that some matters are of such national concern that federal laws must preempt state laws. The doctrine is often limited to federal laws preempting things like state-mandated deportations (e.g. Arizona v. US) and allowing for interstate commerce (e.g. Hughes v. OK). Preemption is usually a pretty useful thing. It's a necessary check in the checks-and-balances of our governmental system.

However, recently, the doctrine of Preemption has become a mighty tool in high-stakes state vs. city conflicts. States can preempt any local law or regulation that is in conflict with state law, and this is a major ace-in-the-hole for lawmakers in state capitols. As our nation has become more politically polarized, state preemption of city ordinances has become more common. In his Atlantic article "Red State, Blue City," David A. Graham observes that in recent years, "[s]tate legislatures have put their oar in on issues ranging from the expansive to the eccentric." He goes on to argue that the reinvigorated preemption trump-card (heretofore rarely dusted off since the dormant-commerce-clause debates of the '70's and 80's) has arisen from a rural-urban friction that is distinct to our current historical landscape:
Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago.
In this context of increasing rural-urban division, people on both sides of the political aisle have warmed to positions typically associated with their adversaries.
However, my question is, while the use of preemption in localities has been most notable with regard to cities and urban centers lately, does this make state preemption of local ordinances a distinctly rural vs. urban contest? I don't know that it necessarily has to be.

According to Pertschuk and colleagues,
Preemption can halt state or local innovation, eliminate the flexibility to respond to the needs of diverse communities, undermine grassroots movements, prevent or delay changes in social norms, and concentrate the power of industry lobbyists in Washington and the state capitals.
It does seem that preemption can have myriad negative effects, and often these negative effects outweigh the positives of preemption's success as a tool for balancing local interests with state and federal ones. However, are these negative effects only on cities?

The Preemption Watch Newsletter from Grassroots Change, cites well over 25 preemptive bills that have been introduced in states across the nation in the last month. These pieces of legislation would preempt LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures, higher minimum wages, plastic bag ordinances, and more. In addition, there are preemption challenges and battles in several states regarding everything from gun control, to GMOs, to vaping. Cities, to their chagrin, have lost preemption battles over many issues, including transgender-friendly bathrooms, to fracking bans and guns in parks. The most talked-about preemption lately deals with sanctuary cities.

Are cities the only geographies to suffer (or, indeed, benefit, if you're into fewer restrictions on tobacco, gun ownership, soda, or alcohol) when preemptive measures are taken, though? The answer is no. Cities are, by far, not the only geographical spaces impacted by state and federal preemption.

For example, when the small town of DISH, TX (all capital letters), population 304, decided to take on natural gas companies in 2010, the Mayor knew that Texas preemption laws would likely bring their complaints through a slog of legal battles. The Texas Supreme Court agreed to hear the DISH appeal only a few weeks ago.

In another such battle, the towns of  Valley Park, MO and Riverside, NJ (both with populations under 8,000), joined the cities of Hazleton, PA, Farmers Branch, TX, Escondido, CA, and Fremont, NE to put ordinances into place that blocked illegal immigrants from living within their borders. According to the Washington Post, they "did so largely out of frustration, fed up with swift demographic changes and what they saw as the rising costs of caring for undocumented residents." However, all the ordinances were overruled by courts, which found them unconstitutional, including legal battles that took the cases all the way to federal courts. and cost the towns and cities exorbitant amounts in legal fees.

We've recently discussed signs in the Central Valley and on route 99 south of Sacramento, and indeed, even outdoor advertising in unincorporated areas of California has been the subject of preemption questions.

It seems to me that preemption is not necessarily a city vs. rurality issue as Atlantic's Graham, and others have argued. What's more, it is dangerous to add to the polarization of geography in this nation, particularly over an issue that might actually unify ruralities and cities.

Instead, I propose that, despite the political polarization that drives conflict, we think of preemption as a last-resort for any state to use against any locality, regardless of political leaning. The fact is, preemption battles won in state capitols tend to remove agency from rural towns and counties in addition to cities. Preemption brings the hammer down when those local areas have chosen to pass laws that locals feel reflect their values.

Though he is the Mayor of the city of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum's campaign called "Defend Local Solutions" isn't only for cities. The campaign is instead meant to bolster the "say" of all local folks - people who live in towns, cities, and counties. Gillum posits that "shadowy special interests and unaccountable lobbyists" are lurking behind legislators' preemption efforts in state capitols, and that these political opportunists and operatives prevent local people from controlling where their own tax dollars go. I can't say I disagree with this position. At first, it seems like Defend Local Solutions is looking out for both the geographical "little guy" as well as the "big guy." Despite this ostensibly geographic neutrality, Gillum's campaign (by its left-leaning nature) is a campaign more in lock-step with "city values." However, this isn't how Defend Local sees it, and it isn't how they're trying to sell the movement, either. The promotional language on the Defend Local website keeps cities out of the limelight. As Henry Grabar from Slate notes:
 Instead, [Defend Local] invokes taxpayers, part-time politicians, and Little League coaches. It focuses not on the successes of the old Volvo-sushi-latte nexus, like Boston or Seattle, but on the injustice that has left citizens in Tallahassee and Chattanooga unable to make basic civic decisions.
Whether Defend Local and similar movements in opposition to preemption succeed in bridging the city-rural gap, its arguably true that they are trying to find common ground and common issues. This is a page we can all take from the anti-preemption debate. Perhaps there are additional challenges that localities have in common, regardless of their differing demographics, population densities, and infrastructures. Perhaps we should be looking for issues like this to band differing spaces together on, as opposed to the polarization that's driving us apart.

Rural children and guns part two: Suicides

"A gun doesn't cause the suicidality, but a suicidal person with access to a gun is far more likely to die from an attempt than someone using another method...It's the combination of accessibility, familiarity, lethality, and really short time frame that's offered by a firearm." - Elaine Frank, director of Counseling on Access to Lethal Means. 

As I stated in my first post on this subject, guns kill rural children at a rate almost equal to urban youths. However, while most urban children die from gun homicides, rural youths tend to die from gun accidents and suicides. This post will focus on rural youths who use firearms to commit suicide. 

The Numbers
In 2011, suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals aged 1-19 and the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 10-19, with 2,089 youths dying by suicide that year. Of these deaths, 41 percent (850 individuals) used a firearm.

Studies have shown that many teenage suicide attempts are impulsive, as can be seen by the fact that of teens who survived an attempt to kill themselves, one quarter of them said they had only thought of attempting suicide approximately five minutes before making the attempt. This impulsivity can be particularly lethal in cases in which the individual uses a firearm in their suicide attempt. According to a report by Madeline Drexler, the editor of Harvard Public Health, approximately 85 percent of suicide attempts that use a firearm end in death. This is in contrast to a drug overdose, the most widely used method for attempting suicide, which only proves to be fatal less than 3 percent of the time. 

According to a study by JAMA Pediatrics which looked at the "Widening Rural-Urban Disparities in Youth Suicides" from 1996 to 2010, rural suicides were almost double the rate in urban areas, regardless of the method used. Additionally, the study showed suicide by firearm and hanging/suffocation were "disproportionately higher in rural areas compared with urban areas." 

The (Potential) Reasons
One possible explanation for the higher rate of suicides in rural communities generally may be a lack of available and accessible mental health services in these areas.  Indeed, of the 1,669 areas that have been federally designated as having a shortage of mental health professionals, over 85 percent are in rural areas. Additionally, this lack of mental health care is even more pronounced in pediatric mental health services as, due to the shortage of specialized mental health care professionals, often primary care physicians are the ones providing mental health services to rural communities. Additionally, rural families often have lower incomes and are less likely to have mental health benefits included in their health insurance coverage.

This lack of easily accessible mental health care often means that rural individuals must travel longer distances to reach these services and/or face longer waiting times. Both of these factors may mean that individuals living in rural communities "may enter care later, with more serious symptoms, and require more expensive and intensive treatments than do their urban peers." Finally, there are the cultural barriers to consider in rural people receiving mental health care. There is often still a stigma surrounding mental health care in these communities that often pride themselves on their self-reliance, which compounded with the lack of anonymity in rural places, can lead to individuals not seeking mental health services when they may need them. 

Another explanation for the higher rates of suicides in rural communities may be due to geographic and social isolation, which may mean that rural individuals lack adequate support systems. Additionally, for younger people living in rural communities, their feelings of isolation may be heightened by the fact that many of their peers may have left the area for education and employment opportunities in more urban areas.
The final factor I will mention, though there are almost surely many more, in regards to the higher rates of suicides in rural communities is the often greater access to firearms in these areas. Gun ownership tends to be more common in rural areas (according to a 2014 study, 51 percent of rural people had guns in their home compared to 25 percent of people in urban areas and 36 percent in suburban areas). While drug overdose may be the most common form of attempted suicide in the US, guns are the most common mode of suicide in America, which is unsurprising given their lethality. Indeed, a "gun in the home raises the suicide risk for everyone: gun owner, spouse and children alike."

So, like the quote at the beginning of this post says, it does not appear as if owning a gun actually increasing the risk of attempting suicide. However, statistically it is much more likely that a person attempting suicide with a gun will succeed in their attempt. For rural children and youth that have easy access to guns and who often impulsively attempt to commit suicide with a firearm, this particularly lethal means can be devastating. 

Therefore, while factors like lack of mental health care and feelings of isolation may contribute to the higher rates of attempted and successful suicides in rural communities, guns (which don't not allow for a change of heart or mind) do have a large role in ensuring the "success" of a suicide attempt.