Saturday, January 19, 2019

Federal lawsuit filed against Wisconsin public defender system in northern counties

Peter Wasson of the Ashland Daily Press reports here, under the headline, "Ashland, Bayfield County residents file federal suit."  Here's the lede:
A group of defendants from Ashland and Bayfield counties say the state’s failure to provide adequate public defenders to represent them violates the constitutional rights of all indigent defendants. 
The five men and one woman are suing the state in federal court on behalf of all poor defendants in Wisconsin, claiming that their rights to competent defense attorneys and speedy trials have been violated because of systemic funding and staffing problems in the state Public Defender’s Office. 
Those violations harm not only the defendants but the entire region, the suit claims, through increased jail costs, lost work time and a sluggish court system that delays hearings for everyone.
The story quotes the lawsuit filings:
The system for indigent defense in Wisconsin has reached a state of crisis.  It is well-settled law that the state must promptly provide effective legal representation for indigent criminal defendants. However, in Wisconsin, these defendants are simply not being promptly appointed the effective legal counsel mandated by the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions.
The Wisconsin Public Defender's Office had this to say: 
The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office (SPD) is aware of the federal court filing related to the nation’s lowest rate of compensation paid to assigned counsel attorneys who accept SPD cases.  We are currently reviewing the filing in detail, and will withhold further comment until that process is complete.
The rate of compensation for criminal defense lawyers in these counties is apparently $40/hour.

My prior work on rural indigent defense and its funding is here.   Ashland and Bayfield counties, populations 16,157 and 15,008, respectively, are on Lake Superior, not far from Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

An interesting spin on rurality in relation to "the wall"

I've been accumulating stories about rural and working class folks who are bearing the brunt of (what  I see as )Trump's crazy policies, and I was planning to write a composite post about them at some point.  But all of that synthesizing will take time, and when I came across this today, I decided it deserved it's own post.  The headline for the Washington Post story is "The Wall is Trump's 'Read my Lips' Pledge." Contributing columnist Gary Abernathy of Hillsboro, Ohio rehashes the "literal v. serious" dichotomy regarding whether we should take what Trump says, a recurring theme among pundits.  The point of invoking that dichotomy here is to interrogate whether Trump's campaign promise of a wall was to be taken literally.  Here's Abernathy's rural-themed insight/argument:
In rural America, where property lines are regularly defined by fences and gates to keep livestock in, families and property secure, and trespassers out (“No Trespassing” signs are as common here as stoplights in the city), defining and defending our southern border with a wall is just common sense.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"Nationalism" across the rural-urban axis

E.J. Dionne proclaimed a few days in his syndicated column that "There is much to fear about nationalism.  But liberals need to address it the right way."  In it, he discusses the current political moment (including the nationalist grip on Trumpsters--think "America First") in relation to the rural-urban divide.  He begins:
In affluent neighborhoods around Washington, New York and Los Angeles — and, for that matter, Paris, London and Berlin — it’s common to denounce nationalism, to disdain supposedly mindless, angry populists, and to praise those with an open-minded, cosmopolitan outlook. Note that those involved are praising themselves.
And then he gets more specifically to the rural-urban divide, linking the current political divide that
so often falls along the rural-urban axis to the economic woes of the former:
But those who would save liberal democracy (along with anyone who would advance a broadly progressive political outlook) need to be honest with themselves and less arrogant toward those who currently find nationalism attractive. 
Across the democratic world, an enormous divide has opened between affluent metropolitan areas and the smaller cities, towns and rural regions far removed from tech booms and knowledge industries. 
Globalization married to rapid technological change has been very good to the well-educated folks in metro areas and a disaster for many citizens outside of them. This is now a truism, but it took far too long for economic and policy elites to recognize what was happening (emphasis added).
I'll leave it at that for now, for readers to consider Dionne's critique of the chattering classes. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Making stuff up to fulfill a distant appetite for rural tropes

Medium published this story a week ago, dateline Fergus, Falls, Minnesota, population 13,138 and the county seat of Otter Tail County, population 57,303.  Fergus Falls was the subject of a Der Spiegel (German magazine) story--the Trump country journalism variety--that was subsequently revealed as a fraud.  That is, the journalist, Claas Relotius, made up a lot of stuff about Fergus Falls and its denizens.  Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn report for Medium.  Anderson and Krohn are both residents of Fergus Falls, and they list the 11 most important things Relotius got wrong (to put is charitably) or just manufactured (to put it less charitably).  Here are just a few, from the sublime to the ridiculous, starting with the latter--oops, nix that.  All of them are fairly ridiculous and all of them confirm rural stereotypes suggesting that rural people have had limited life experiences (e.g., have never been anywhere) and are focused on the military, as manifest in a very long and successful run of the movie "American Sniper" at the Fergus Falls cinema.  Relotius wrote:
At the entrance, just before the station, there is a sign with the American stars and stripes banner, which reads: “Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks.”
In fact, the real-life sign just offers a bland, "Welcome to Fergus Falls." 

A few of the inaccuracies involve how locals were depicted.  Here's the most outrageous (to my mind):  
2. The gun-toting, virgin City Administrator 
Der Spiegel wrote:
Andrew Bremseth would like to marry soon, he says, but he was never together with a woman. He has also never seen the ocean. 
The Medium expose comments: 
Relotius chose to put the spotlight on Fergus Falls city administrator, Andrew Bremseth, as the main character in his article. We have spoken to Bremseth at length regarding the parts of the story that feature him, and Relotius got three facts right:
  • Bremseth’s age (27) 
  • That he grew up in Fergus Falls 
  • That he went to university in South Dakota 
Everything else, from the claim that Bremseth carries a Beretta 9mm on his person while at work (“I would never ever wear a gun to work, and I don’t even own a Beretta.”), his disdain for a potential female president, his comment that Trump would “kick ass” (“Never said that”), and even his college-era preference for 18th century French philosophers (“Never read them”) and the New England Patriots (“I’m not a fan of them at all”), is complete fiction. Says Bremseth, “Anyone who knows anything about me, this [portrayal] is the furthest from what I stand for.” 
Perhaps the oddest fiction in a list of many is Relotius’ depiction of Bremseth as someone who “would like to marry soon…but he has not yet been in a serious relationship with a woman. He has also never been to the ocean.” 
We can attest that Bremseth has indeed been to the ocean, by his account, “many times” and is currently happily involved in a multi-year, cohabitational relationship with a woman named Amber. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them in front of, all things, an ocean.
Anderson and Krohn write near the end of their story: 
[I]t seems to me that Relotius’ overseas readers might appreciate knowing that small American towns are more complex than they imagine — that die-hard liberals like me can still magically live alongside conservative Republicans — that sometimes we even find some common ground and share a meal together, and take the time to try to understand each other’s viewpoints. You see, we’re definitely not perfect here in Fergus Falls, and many of us feel a lot of responsibility right now, considering that our friends, family and neighbors voted against their own interests in 2016. But we also know how it feels to be ignored in policy and media for decades only to be lectured by ignorant articles such as this after so much silence about our challenges.
Don't  miss this story in its entirety.  It's a fun read, and helps establish that diversity of thought is alive and well in rural America, while also suggesting a bit about how those diverse political perspectives mesh in the flyover states  (hint:  it requires tolerance, civility and mutual respect).  The story also provides insights into the significant failures of even the main-stream media (think fact-checking!).

Post script:  The New York Times has just published this story about the matter under the headline, "Minnesota Town Defamed by German Reporter Ready to Forgive."  Matt Furber and Mitch Smith characterize what Relotius did thusly:
Relotius portrayed Fergus Falls as a backward, racist place whose residents blindly supported President Trump and rarely ventured beyond city limits. He made up details about a young city official. He concocted characters, roadside signs and racially tinged plotlines.
They also note that Der Spiegel has recently fired Relotius, who was recently found to have fabricated other stories from the around the world.   The New York Times also notes some of the more positive things about Fergus Falls that Relotius might have chosen to report:
about the many residents who maintain friendships across partisan lines, about the efforts to lure former residents back to west-central Minnesota or about how a city of roughly 14,000 people maintains a robust arts scene. 
To give a sense of the place, he could have described local landmarks like the giant statue of Otto the Otter. Or the Minnesota-shaped welcome sign next to the Applebee’s. Or the expansive prairie that surrounds the town.
Postscript:  From the Washington Post about journalists reporting what they think we want to hear, and how this practice persists in the era of easy fact checking. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"What's the Matter with Kansas?" redux, and more discouraging news out of rural America

Eduardo Porter reports in today's New York Times from Harlan County, Kentucky, a famously impoverished place in the eastern part of the state, coal country.  (Other posts featuring Harlan County are here, here, here and here).  The headline suggests a topic familiar to many of us--especially those who study rural America and rural politics:  "Where Government is a Dirty Word, but Its Checks Pay the Bills."  It's the old, "why do these people vote against their own interests?" question.  That is, why do so many people who rely on government programs in one form or anther vote Republican and therefore in favor of politicians who would cut the very programs that often (barely) sustain these people, which isn't necessarily the same as sustaining these places/their communities?

(The most persuasive article I've ever read on this topic, by the way, is from Alec MacGillis three years ago, also in the NYT; the most persuasive book I've read about it is Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus (2008).  For a counter-narrative, see Frank Morris's reporting out of central Missouri this fall.  In short, )

Porter helpfully includes lots of national, regional and local data in this story:
Harlan County is the nation’s fifth most dependent on federal programs, according to the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
That means that Social Security and Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and the EITC (earned-income tax credit) made up some 54% of the residents' income in 2016.  That figure has nearly doubled, from 28%, in 1990.  People here draw between a fifth and a third of their income from the "public purse," a figure that excludes health insurance.

And about the nation more broadly, seven of the ten states where government transfers make up the largest share of income are states Trump carried.
Research by Dean Lacy at Dartmouth College on the presidential elections in 2004, 2008 and 2012 found that states receiving more federal spending for every tax dollar they contributed were more likely to go Republican.
Porter also notes Suzanne Mettler's new book, The Government-Citizen Disconnect, which talks not only about what voters don't seem to take on about where benefits come from, but also the fact that so many low-income folks don't vote.  Just 31% of Kentuckians voted in 2015, and only 16% voted for Matt Bevin, the second Republican to be elected governor since the 1970s.  (This "poor people don't vote phenomenon was a big part of MacGillis's 2015 analysis).

But there is more to Porter's Sunday feature than the perennial hand wringing over (white) low-income folks ostensibly voting against their own economic interests, and there is more, too, than the persistent question regarding whether voters like those in Harlan County are more motivated by racism or economics (though the story also features some of that).  Porter gives a nod to a theme that gets more attention in the Trump era, that folks in rural America tend to feel overlooked by government, and so they've lost trust in it.  (More on that here and in about everything I've ever written about the would-be State of Jefferson).

As he did in a related feature in last Sunday's NYTimes, Porter acknowledges the desire of folks like those in Harlan County for decent jobs that pay a living wage.  That implicates critical regional economic context:  the decline of coal and the "vague but powerful resentment across the county toward a political system that people here blame for allowing, encouraging even, the decline of coal, its economic backbone."  To this day, coal provides some of the best jobs in the county, paying more than twice the average wage there.  But the number of coal jobs has dropped below 600, a small fraction of the number in the early days of the Obama administration.  Only about a third of Harlan County's working-age adults are employed.

Porter articulates an interesting rural-urban comparison, which many would read as a white-black comparison.  
Many people blame Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan for killing coal and credit their vote for Mr. Trump to his promise that he would revitalize the industry. Some are skeptical of a government that saved Detroit’s automakers but not Appalachia’s lifeline.  
Is Porter hinting (or should I say dog-whistling?) at something akin to Arlie Hochshild's "standing in line" and "cutting in line" metaphors?  That disgruntled low-income and working-class whites see immigrants, racial minorities, women, and even environmental concerns cutting in line ahead of them so that working class whites never get their due?

Porter closes with this discouraging thought:
As small towns lag behind prosperous urban centers along the coasts, as rural communities shed businesses and jobs, and as their residents turn to welfare as a last line of sustenance, the more they will resent Washington’s inability, or unwillingness, to stem the decline.
That thought echoes Porter's column from last week, "The Hard Truths of Trying to 'Save' the Rural Economy." That column features lots of useful and interesting charts and graphs conveying a lot of bad news (akin to this WSJ feature in May 2017:  "Rural America is the New Inner City").  Rural America is aging; brain drain is a problem.  Economic woes abound.  This, too, has become a familiar 21st century narrative about the rural.  Porter observes:
One thing seems clear to me: nobody — not experts or policymakers or people in these communities — seems to know quite how to pick rural America up.
That may be true, but many rural sociologists and economists at least have some ideas about what might work.  Porter breaks down the sources of rural employment, with attention to what links rural economies to urban ones.  Here are some key data points on rural labor markets:
  • In the nation's 704 entirely rural counties, manufacturing employs just one in eight workers, still more than all extractive industries (including farming) combined. 
  • Education, health care and social assistance are the sources of the greatest number of jobs in these counties, and most of those jobs are government funded.   
But America has just 13 million manufacturing jobs, so that sector is unlikely to save rural America, especially in light of the rising use of robots.  (Read more here and here; for a more upbeat vignette on manufacturing in rural America, there's this out of Ludington, Michigan).  On the issue of technology, broadband deficits continue to be an issue.

Regarding the public sector v. private sector debate, a recent report of the Brookings Institute suggests that government intervention should be used judiciously, with targets carefully selected.   
Better to focus on middle-sized places that are near big tech hubs and have some critical infrastructure, rather than scatter assistance all over the landscape.
That said, it's important to acknowledge that even medium-sized cities struggle to compete in an era that rewards agglomeration (read here for a great example).

Porter does identify some rural bright spots:  Sioux County, Nebraska (population 1,311 in the far northwest corner of the state) and Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska (population 7,029).  Both have high per capita earnings because, interestingly, both rely heavily on technology in sectors not traditionally associated with it:  agriculture and extraction.  Otherwise, he basically concludes that some 50 million people live in a rural America that has little to offer them economically.  Porter also ponders the political consequences of that fact, quoting William Galston of the Brookings Institute:
Think through the political consequences of saying to a substantial portion of Americans, which is even more substantial in political terms, ‘We think you’re toast.’                                                          
Plus, Porter notes the consequences of rural America's flailing and failures for the entire nation (think:  cost of opioid epidemic).  This rural-urban interdependence is a point too often overlooked by commentators, though it is one that rural advocates often make.
Don't miss the NYTimes curated reader comments on last week's story, "Small Town America is Dying?  How Can We Save It?." 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

More on the demise of the small dairy farm

Jim Goodman, an organic dairy farmer in Wonewoc, Wisconsin (population 816) published this op-ed/guest piece in the Washington Post yesterday, "Dairy Farming is Dying.  After 40 years, I'm done."  The headline sums up well what he has to say, but here's one of the most compelling excerpts:
Unlike many dairy farmers, I didn’t retire bankrupt. But for my wife and me, having to sell our herd was a sign — of the economic death not just of rural America but also of a way of life. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to walk through our barn and know that those stalls will remain empty. Knowing that our losses reflect the greater damage inflicted on entire regions is worse.
Writing about the farm crisis of the 1980s, Goodman observed its knock-on effects:
Farmers felt the impact most directly, but there were few in rural communities who were untouched. All the businesses that depended on farm dollars watched as their incomes dried up and the tax base shrank. Farm foreclosures meant fewer families and fewer kids, so schools were forced to close . The Main Street cafes and coffee shops — where farmers talked prices, the weather and politics — shut down as well.
He also notes the link between the current farm crisis and the mental health crisis among farmers, writing:
This year, Wisconsin, where I live, had lost 382 dairy farms by August; last year, the number at the same point was 283. The despair is palpable; suicide is a fact of life, though many farm suicides are listed as accidents.
Earlier posts on this topic are here and here

As for the subsidies available to larger dairy farms in the just-signed Farm Bill, those he calls a "PR stunt."  What farmers want, he says, is a fair price for their product. 

Other topics addressed in this piece include going organic, agribusiness, and the collapse of the family farm. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Stripping, pheasant hunting and the (relative absence of) law in rural South Dakota

A friend drew my attention to this story in South Dakota's Argus-Leader last month.  The headline is "Stripping, sex-trafficking, and small towns looking the other way," and it seems to support my long-standing argument that law and legal institutions are less present, less effective in rural areas, in part for socio-spatial reasons.  That is, material spatiality disables law because of the challenge and cost of policing vast, sparsely populated places.  Further, material spatiality reinforces (and is reinforced by) social expectations of law's anemic presence and role.

Here's an excerpt from Jeremy Fugleberg's story in the Argus-Leader.
Pheasant hunting season was once a homespun South Dakota tradition. But increasingly it is a commercial enterprise, one that comes with a dark side: sex trafficking and pop-up strip clubs that cater to hunters here for a good time.

The hunting season's dark side stands in stark contrast to South Dakota’s friendly, clean-cut image. It can be easy to overlook by small farm towns that increasingly rely on hosting a flood of rich pheasant hunters to offset losses from troubled agricultural markets. 
Pop-up strip clubs, while legal, have their own place in the shadow. They can trap freelance dancers in a web of exorbitant fees, throwing them into debt and making them vulnerable to being illegally exploited by traffickers and hunters. 

 * * * 
South Dakota is dawning to the realization that human trafficking isn’t just a big-city problem. It’s essentially modern slavery that does happen in the state, as (usually) men, control and manipulate (usually) women and sell their bodies for sex.
It’s a shocking practice, one that can be masked as simply providing entertainment for hunters in remote communities. 
The story quotes Tifanie Petro, co-chair of the South Dakota West River Human Trafficking Task Force:
These small towns allow this to happen because it’s a social norm, right? 'Boys will be boys,' that’s what we tell ourselves.  There’s this social acceptance because, ‘that’s just what happens here, that’s just what goes on during the rally, or during the pheasant season.’
The story uses Frank Day's Bar in Dallas, in Gregory County (population 4,271) to illustrate the phenomenon.  The establishment has "become legendary as a South Dakota destination for groups of hunters, mostly male, sometimes wealthy, looking for after-dark entertainment."  Fugleberg suggests that Gregory County authorities turn a blind eye to exploitation of strippers by establishments like Frank Day's, which becomes "No Wives Ranch" during pheasant season.  Fascinating.

So, what is the onus on local government to protect the women who come to work as strippers?  What would government protection look like in that context?  Is the exploitation mostly economic?  or is it something else? Or can you ever separate the economic incentives from the "something else"?

Fugelberg suggests certain "secret ingredients" to sex trafficking, which are present here:
South Dakota’s two largest tourist events, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and pheasant hunting season, both have the ingredients that attract sex traffickers: lots of men a long way from home, looking for a good time, with money to spend.  (emphasis added)
Interesting.  Maybe so.  I always assumed there was a pimp or profiteer or clear-cut criminal who was making a lot of $$$.  Is Frank Day's Bar making a lot of money during the period it is the "No Wives Ranch"?

How about the widespread "ingredient" of women not earning what they deserve?  Looks like another feature of a patriarchal society to me. 
I noticed a few years ago at conferences that what we previously called prostitution is now widely labeled "sex trafficking."  Hmmm.  Is all prostitution sex-trafficking?  To be more precise, is all sale of sex for $$$ sex-trafficking?  or only when a man or men are involved and are making the profit?

I ask these questions with great appreciation for Fugelberg's reporting, but also just trying to sort things out here.

Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory and Working Class Whites and the Law.

California's wildland-urban interface

Doug Smith and Ben Walsh report in today's Los Angeles Times:
A Times analysis of wildfire hazard across California found that hundreds of communities from Redding to San Diego are at high risk of deadly wildfires like those in Paradise and Malibu last month. 
More than 1.1 million structures, or roughly 1 in 10 buildings in California, lie within the highest-risk fire zones in maps drawn by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the analysis showed.
Don't miss the maps accompanying this story, where you can "drill down" and see where you own home lies. 
Nearly 60% of the state’s at-risk structures are in incorporated cities or counties, placing the burden of preparing them on local fire departments, overwhelmingly in Southern California. 
* * * 
Large clusters are found where cities run up against rocky terrain, such as where the Santa Monica Mountains bisect Los Angeles.
I first learned of the term "wildland-urban interface" in 2013 or 2014 and even used the construct in my 2014 book chapter, "The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space," where I was grappling with the continuum between remote wilderness and small towns, as two ends of the spectrum that could be considered "rural."  Turns out the idea of the wildland-urban interface disrupts that continuum because it puts the urban right next to wilderness.  

The Los Angeles Times story also notes that Paradise and Malibu are among 174 California communities that are "nearly entirely at risk with 90% or more of its buildings in the red zone."  The story quotes Dave Sapsis, a researcher with the state's Fire and Resource Assessment Program:  
It’s not a good feeling to look back on how we mapped Paradise — it’s almost all red — and then having this event come through that validates the map. We’ve really got to address this trend. These are unacceptable outcomes.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

This story about Paradise (California) High School's Class of 2019 resonates eerily with my last post

Dan Levin reports today in the New York Times under the headline, "After Wildfire, Class of 2019 Faces Uncertain Future."  As a law student and I suggested in posts a few weeks ago on Working Class Whites and the Law (here and here), Paradise, California, the small city destroyed in the so-called Camp Fire in November, was very much a working class town, and its population was predominantly white.  Here's a data point from Levin's story that reinforces the point:  
  • 67 percent of Paradise High School students qualify for free or reduced lunch
The story features many profiles of Paradise High students.  One profile in particular reminds me of my Legal Ruralism post from a few days ago regarding the struggles of rural students in the higher education context:   
[Elie] Wyllie, 17, grew up in Paradise “way below the poverty line,” she said. Problems at home motivated her to get stellar grades. Her zeal for perfection made her Paradise High’s top tennis player and earned her the nickname The Comeback. She dreamed of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon, believing that college was the sole path to changing her family’s fortunes.

She was in the midst of applying to a dozen colleges, including Yale, when the inferno reduced her home to ashes. While California state schools extended their application deadlines, she still does not have all the paperwork they require.
Levin quotes Wyllie:
Everything is crashing down.  Now I’ll be the only person in my family to have a future. They’re going to expect me to take care of them when I can barely take care of myself. 
Wyllie has moved in with her now-retired AP history teacher, the only way she could complete homework and her college applications. 

Here's another sobering quote from Ms. Wyllie: 
The Camp Fire tore up more than just my town; it took away my peace of mind.  Everything for the rest of my life is going to be affected by this.
Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Colleges and universities (including elite ones) paying more attention (in a good way) to rural students

National Public Radio ran a lengthy feature yesterday on rural college students as part of its series, the Changing Face of College.  This piece is chock full of sensitivity to the rural student experience, and it features profiles of students who hail from a range of rural-ish places in Michigan, from the Upper Peninsula to not-that-far from Ann Arbor and close-to Holland, in the western part of the state.

The title of the piece by Alissa Nadworny is "'Going to Office Hours is Terrifying' And Other Tales of Rural Students in College."  Here is the post I wrote for Working Class Whites and the Law, which features some excepts from the story as well as other recent media coverage of socioeconomic class diversity in higher ed.  In this post for Legal Ruralism, I want to focus more on "rural" and less on "working class white" generally, though it seems that the rural students in the Nadworny feature are all white (and seemingly all working-class white). 

The story (as well as my WCW post about it) focuses in part on the culture shock rural students experience when they go to large, urban-ish campuses. The following quote from Alexandra Rammacher of Charlotte, Michigan, population 9,074, highlights the lack of anonymity of rural places in contrast to the the 46,000-student Ann Arbor campus:
There were so many people!
Every day you would see a face you had never seen before — many faces you had never seen before.  I was used to seeing a group of people I already knew. It was just a huge there-are-people-in-the-world revelation.
Keep in mind that her hometown Charlotte, as the crow flies, is not that far from Ann Arbor.  Here is an excerpt regarding Kendra Beaudoin of Lake Linden, population 993, in the storied Upper Peninsula, a 10-hour drive from Ann Arbor:
Beaudoin is the daughter of a single mother, and she helped raise her four younger siblings. Back home, she didn't know a lot of people with a bachelor's degree; fewer than 1 in 5 rural adults aged 25 and older have them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.  
(Here's a really old post on the extent to which people in my home town had college degrees.)
At Michigan, Beaudoin is majoring in biopsychology, cognition and neural science and has co-founded a club for first-generation students to give one another moral support and advice. 
"I'm still intimidated by professors. Going to office hours is terrifying," she says. "There were definitely moments when I was like, 'I'm only going here to fill a diversity quota and I don't really belong here and everybody else is so much smarter than me.' "
* * *  
Other obstacles are more mundane. Take crosswalks. "Those don't exist where I lived," Beaudoin says. She stops and waits for the light to change while other pedestrians brush past her. When her phone broke, leaving her without one for several months, she used a paper map to find her way around campus. She still has trouble figuring out the bus system. Yet, as someone from a rural place where self-sufficiency is valued, "The idea of going to someone and asking how this works ... it was almost like I felt bad for not knowing."
Beaudoin also offers a comment that goes to students' different attitudes stemming from class:
It's almost like a sense of entitlement.  Some students, they're comfortable, they're relaxed, they're OK with talking back to the teachers or arguing a grade.
Speaking of entitlement, the story also comments on the shock to some students of seeing others wearing designer labels.  A student from Au Gres, Michigan, population 889, observes:
Everybody else has got the coin that I don't have. Those Canada Goose jackets? You're kidding.  I'm walking down the road and I see people with Gucci or Versace.
Canada Goose parkas can cost up to $1500.  (Here's a recent story out of England about a high school that banned Canada Goose coats by way of "poverty proofing" the school and making it less alienating for students whose families cannot afford ht pricey jackets).

NPR reports that some colleges and universities are doing more to attract and support rural students qua rural students--because they are rural and not merely working-class white.  (Note the contrast between this news and recent rhetoric regarding the Harvard affirmative action litigation, which implied that rural students don't represent diversity or bring perspectives that would be valuable in higher education).  Nadworny quotes Naomi Norman, associate vice president for instruction at the University of Georgia, which recently launched a program to provide scholarships and mentors to support rural students:
We never really came to terms with the fact that they needed extra support.
The story continues by noting what the the University of Georgia is on the vanguard of four-year institutions that is providing financial and academic support to rural students, just as they do urban ones. 
The Georgia program came about after a task force found that rural students have higher dropout rates than their classmates and couldn't afford the $1,500 fee for the existing summer program for incoming freshmen. The University of North Carolina system plans to increase rural enrollment by 11 percent by 2021, and several Pennsylvania universities and colleges have started scholarships for students from rural Schuylkill County, a onetime coal-producing area.
It is exciting to see colleges and universities, both small and large, public and private, setting rural-specific goals like these.  Most such initiatives are recent.  Kent Trachte, president of Lycoming College, where 20% of students hail from rural Pennsylvania, says: 
It's fair to say that until fairly recently, we just took our rural students for granted.           
That's an interesting way of expressing things for a few reasons, not least because it draws attention to the fact that enrollment of rural students has been declining nationally. 
Lycoming College recently received "the second half of a $1 million grant to go toward scholarships for residents of two such counties."

Nadworny notes that the University of Michigan is now being intentional about extending to more rural students the range of academic and financial support it provides to others in the first-generation category.  When its Kessler Presidential Scholarship Program was founded a decade ago, 90% of participants came from nearby Detroit and other urban areas, but "nearly a third of this year's 36 Kessler Scholars are from rural places."

Michigan is adding scholarships and academic support for as many as 20 students from the Upper Peninsula next fall, and Cornell University is launching its own program, modeled on Michigan's.

The NPR story also touches, importantly, on the (in)visibility of the "rural" student and the optics of diversity:
One challenge faculty and staff face in helping rural students: They often don't realize that rural students, who are predominantly white, need the extra help. "If you are an instructor in a class looking out, you cannot identify [a first-generation rural student] in the way you might say, 'Well, I have an African-American student in this class,' or, 'I have a student of Muslim identity in this class.' So we start there," Gibson says. "What the student is experiencing in a classroom situation or in a dorm situation may or may not be visible."
I wrote some about that here and here.

One really exciting aspect of this piece is that it suggests that some universities are beginning to see  rural as a desirable characteristic because it broadens political diversity, even as it also (at least partly) re-affirms stereotypes of rural as conservative and Republican. 

Check out this quote from a University of Michigan student from rural (or at least exurban) Louisiana:
They expect a yee-haw.  They expect me to be some extreme bigot.
The student from Au Gres, Michigan, one of 55 students in his high school class, notes that people in Ann Arbor often assume he is "Republican. And poor. And a farmer."

Another rural University of Michigan student states:
It's right that a lot of people from rural towns are conservative, and that's not me so I don't love going home and butting heads with people who never leave and never open themselves up to something different. They're just going to stay on the same farm their whole life with the same values and do the same thing. I'm just trying to experience everything.
And here is an excerpt that suggests appreciation for what rural students bring to the broader discourse, especially in this extremely polarized political moment:
"If we want to increase conversations across party lines and ideologies, we have to be exposed to one another," says Sonja Ardoin, assistant professor for student affairs administration at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and a onetime rural student herself.
Kent Trachte of Lycoming College notes, in a similar vein,
We in higher education had better be thinking about how do we bring together young people from these different backgrounds to a place where they can hopefully have civil discourse.
Again, contrast that constructive view with the scoffing at rural perspectives we saw in commentary about the trial over Harvard's affirmative action program this fall.

And all of this leads me to the big question I've been asking for several years:  What are scholars doing to ensure that the sorts of knowledge and cultural capital that rural students bring to college are appreciated?  Are we conveying to our rural students (however defined?) that they are valued?  (A very provocative piece of scholarship related to that question is here).  Are we doing what it takes to retain them in higher education?

These questions are near to my heart (and mind) right now because I've just finished teaching a seminar to first-gen, first-year (formerly freshman) students at UC Davis--undergrads, not law students.  I created the seminar, called "The First-Gen Experience in Scholarly and Popular Literature," and in it, my students reflected on and told their own stories of how they got to college.  Who were the key mentors?  What were the primary obstacles? They also reflected on the support they need to succeed at UC Davis.  Almost all of the students were urban, but a few had some claim to knowing something about rurality.  One was from Sonoma, an example of rural gentrification, and one was from Stockton, in the great Central Valley.  Some of the students' parents had worked as agricultural laborers.   By and large, the students weren't rural--and they also were not white, but I felt like a lot of the obstacles they are facing cross color lines and geographic lines.

All of this takes me back to what I wrote here.  Don't we want the greatest talent from all of America, rural or urban, whatever skin color, in our best colleges?  Don't we want--indeed, need--to develop it for the common good?

For more posts on rural students and higher education, check out the ones here (2008, the first year of this blog!, which shows how long this issue has been on my mind), here (2017), here (2010), here (suggesting elite admissions bias against rural students, 2013), or here (back to 2008) or just search Legal Ruralism for "college degree."

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

On the rural housing shortage and how California's wildfires have drawn attention to it

I've already blogged recently about how the California wildfires have drawn attention not only to California's housing shortage generally, but even more so its rural housing crisis.  I'm coming back to that topic because the national (and state) media continue to attend to it and because the media are also talking about the wildfires in relation to income inequality and poverty. 

The Los Angeles Times' Liam Dillon wrote a few days ago under the headline, "How Northern California's Destructive Wildfires Could Exacerbate the State's Housing Crisis."  Here's an excerpt:
Five large wildfires over the past 14 months, with November’s Camp fire the most devastating, have destroyed nearly 21,000 homes across six counties. That total is equivalent to more than 85% of all the new housing built in those counties over the past decade, according to Construction Industry Research Board building permit statistics.
Dillon quotes Bob Rymer of the California Building Industry Association. 
We had a housing crisis prior to the fires.  This exacerbated the crisis. I can’t even put a measure on it. Just wow.
The story profiles a low-income apartment complex that was destroyed in the Camp Fire, Paradise Community Village.  Its three dozen apartment homes were among 14,000 housing units destroyed by the the fire.  The apartment complex is owned by the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which owns or manages 17 properties in Butte, Shasta and five surrounding counties.  Even before the fire, CHIP had a wait list of 1800 families. 

Dillon also considers what's been going on around other California communities that have suffered wildfires: 
This summer’s Carr fire in Shasta and Trinity counties destroyed more than 1,000 homes. After the fire, officials in Redding, the largest city in Shasta County, heard from their counterparts in Sonoma County that a shortage of builders was pushing up costs there, Redding City Councilwoman Kristen Schreder said. She fears the effects could be even worse in her community and Butte County as rebuilding efforts get off the ground.
Schreder pointed to $6 billion in new funding for low-income and homeless housing developments approved by California voters in November as a potential source of money to help the neediest residents find permanent homes.
An earlier Los Angeles Times story by Anna M. Phillips provides more helpful context regarding the Butte County housing market: 
Across Butte County — a primarily agricultural area known for its walnut, almond and rice farms — towns are struggling to absorb the roughly 50,000 people displaced by the Camp fire. Through no fault of their own, the evacuees’ arrival has worsened the state’s housing crisis and raised the possibility that they could be evicted from the region again, not by fire but by a scarcity of suitable dwellings.

Hotels and motels from Sacramento to Redding are full. The vacancy rate in the rental market, which hovered around 3% before the fire, has fallen to near zero. Unable to find single-family homes in the area, evacuees have resorted to renting individual bedrooms, buying recreational vehicles and purchasing travel trailers. Others are simply leaving California for other western states with a lower cost of living.
* * *
Butte County Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Mayer said that nearly 14,000 homes burned to the ground on Nov. 8, a loss of about 14% of Butte’s housing stock. Before the fire, the county’s homeless population numbered about 2,000. Now, it is expected to grow.
* * *
On the day before the fire broke out, the city of Chico had 243 homes for sale, said Adam Pearce, president of the North Valley group. About a week later, less than a third of them were still on the market.
Needless to say, demand is driving up housing prices.

Here's some of last year's coverage of the impact of the Tubbs fire on Sonoma County area housing. The dateline is Santa Rosa, the largest population cluster affected by that fire.  Some 5,700 structures, mostly homes, were destroyed in that fire.  Here's a data-dense excerpt from that story:
California already had a housing crisis long before the fires started. With strict environmental rules and local politics that can discourage new housing development, the state’s pace of new construction has fallen far short of the state’s population growth. 
In the five-year period ending in 2014, California added 544,000 households, but only 467,000 housing units, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, and the deficit is only expected to grow over the next decade. Napa and Sonoma Counties, where the fires did some of the most extensive damage, are among the furthest behind, building less than half the number of units in recent years that the state reckons were needed to keep up with the population.
As a somewhat related matter, here's coverage of the disparate impact the Camp Fire had on elderly folks in Butte County, where many lived in manufactured housing. 

At the other end of the housing spectrum--the luxury end--is new high-end accommodation for aging baby boomers--dateline, Santa Rosa.