Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXIV): New jail about to open, but is it under "worst case scenario"?

I have often followed on these pages the goings on related to the county jail in Newton County, Arkansas, the persistent poverty county where I grew up.  Some earlier posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here.  The most recent post is here, from August, 2013.

In short, the county's century-old jail was condemned by state inspectors as unsafe in about 2007. The county's Quorum Court (the equivalent of a Board of Supervisors) decided to put the funding of a new jail to the voters, proposing a 1/2 cent sales tax to build the jail and another 1/2 cent sales tax to fund its operation.  In the fall of 2008, voters approved the former but not the latter.  Over more than five years, there have been many false starts and a lot of wasted money preparing building plans and preparing sites that ultimately proved not useable for the facility.  Finally, in 2012, the county bought an existing building (that had actually been a person's home and garage, albeit in a metal building), and proceeded to convert that building into a jail.  But the new facility still lacked operating funds after a 2012 ballot measure seeking approval to finance the operation with sales taxes again failed.  Finally, last November, the Quorum Court "levied the county general operating fund to 5 mills the maximum allowed by state law without voter approval to generate more revenues for the jail and other county offices."  All was set … except that the county still apparently did not have enough money to staff or use the jail, not least because those funds won't be available until after collected, in October 2014.

Enter the State of Arkansas.  The state came to the rescue this year--in more than one way.  First, State Senator Michael Lamoureaux helped the county to secure a $400,000 grant to finalize the jail's construction "and furnishing costs to free up other money for maintenance and operation purposes," quoting a July 9, 2014 story in the Newton County Times.  Elsewhere, that story mentions a $150,000 grant to purchase furnishings and equipment, including large clothes washer and dryer. (It is not clear if this $150,000 grant is part of the $400,000 the Senator helped to secure).   This state funding comes in two cycles, the first from January, 2014, and the second beginning in June, 2014.  

The second way in which the state is involved is what I am suggesting may be a "worst case scenario." The jail can open, apparently, contingent "upon the jail being able to house state prisoners," for which the Arkansas Department of Corrections (DofC) will pay the county $28/day for each prisoner housed.  According to the Times, the D of C "is in a financial and overcrowding bind.  A special session of the state legislature was called earlier in the week to take up the matter."

Net-net:  It appears that the Newton County jail is about to become operational--but that it will do so only by becoming part of the national prison industrial complex.  Read more from the 2012 story regarding the same phenomenon in Louisiana … and it's happening in other states, too.

I'm not convinced that Newton County needed its own jail. It was paying a reasonable amount of money to house prisoners in the jails of surrounding counties.  The only thing Newton County will get out of the current arrangement is some local "pride" in having its own jail--and a couple of jobs for those who operate the jail.

I assess it as a sad day for Newton County.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Crime and Punishment (or lack thereof) in far northern Norway

The New York Times again this week featured a story from Arctic Norway, in particular the island chain of Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen.  (The earlier story was noted in my recent blog post about my trip to northern Norway). Andrew Higgins's story is "A Harsh Climate Calls for Banishment of the Needy."  The gist of the story is that homelessness and unemployment are banned on Svalbard, which has a particularly positive impact on the crime rate.  Higgins suggests Svalbard as a manifestation of Ayn Rand's vision and contrasts it with the Scandinavian norm of a generous welfare state.  These policies are credited for creating a place that as close as Europe gets to a "crime-free society."  Indeed, the place has just six police officers and one detention cell, last used for two days last summer.  

Higgins quotes governor Odd Olsen Ingero,  
“If you don’t have a job, you can’t live here,” Mr. Ingero said, noting that the jobless are swiftly deported. Retirees are sent away, too, unless they can prove they have sufficient means to support themselves. 
* * * 
Even Longyearbyen’s socialist mayor, Christin Kristoffersen, a member of the Labour Party, wants the town — named after an American industrialist, John Munro Longyear, who founded it in 1906 — to stay off limits to all but the able-bodied and gainfully employed. 
“This is a very special kind of place,” said the mayor, whose town has all the conveniences of a modern urban area, including an airport, high-speed Internet and even a high-end restaurant, but faces such a struggle to survive against the elements that it has no place for the jobless or infirm.
Although the story mostly credits the no-homelessness, no unemployment policy for the low crime rate, Higgins also notes some practical deterrents to crime:  
elsewhere run-of-the-mill crimes like car theft are an exotic and very risky business in a place where there are no roads out of town to escape on.
The story's dateline is Longyearbyen, population 2,040, the administrative capital of this region, which is an unincorporated area overseen by a state-appointed governor, Mr. Ingero.  As suggested by the quote from Mayor Kristoffersen, Longyearbyen has an elected local government.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

My Rural Travelogue (Part XVII): Northern Norway

Road signs near Kirkenes, Norway, June, 2014

Vardo Cultural Center
I spent several days last week on the "coastal express" MS Trollfjord, traveling from Kirkenes to Bergen, Norway.  The flight from Oslo to Kirkenes was nearly two hours long, which highlighted for me just how far north and east Kirkenes is.  Indeed, Kirkenes is just a few miles from the Russian border, north of Finland and in Norway's Finnmark county, which effectively cuts Sweden and Finland off from the Arctic Ocean.  Kirkenes has a population of 3,444, and it's nothing to look at, I have to admit, having been destroyed--like all else in these far northern reaches of Norway--by the retreating Germans near the end of World War II.  Like neighboring Vadso and Vardo (also stops on the Hurtigruten journey we took), Kirkenes is nearly as far east as St. Petersburg and Istanbul.  Also like these towns and many others we saw in Finnmark county, Kirkenes boasts a single church. This is presumably the Evangelical Lutheran church, effectively the national church of Norway.  As with other churches we saw on our journey, it was quite spartan, built after the war.  The loveliest such church we saw was in Tromso, the so-called Arctic Cathedral.  

Kirkenes church
Churches and such aside, what I really want to talk about is the transit and other infrastructure in this remote and very sparsely populated part of the world.  First, we stayed several miles out of Kirkenes, a few hundred yards from the Russian border at Storskog.  (More precisely, we were at Sollia Gjestegaard, a husky farm with a lodge, cabins, and restaurant on a lovely lake on the Pasvikelva River, which also forms the border between Russia and Norway).  En route between Storskog and Kirkenes, we saw several places that are probably considered villages by the Norwegian government, but which appeared to be little more than wide spots in the road.  Just a couple of houses were visible as we drove through each.  One of these villages was Elvenes, shown in the photo I took along the E-105.  (According to a wikipedia photo, Elvenes actually has a few dozen houses. Also according to wikipedia, it was home to a Russian prisoner of war camp during World War II, and 600 Norwegian teachers were sent there as slave labor during the war).  What was striking from a rural development and infrastructure standpoint was that there were bus stops and street lights along this route, and a bike path next to the road beside much of it, too.

As noted above, Kirkenes and the region have an airport served by Oslo and a few other Norwegian cities--our flights on SAS booked a number of months in advance for just $120, about half of which was for taxes.  Other tiny places along our journey also had airports, and once we were flying out of Norway from Bergen, I noticed the large number of flights going to remote towns where we had recently been, like Bronnoysund, population 4625. It is very hard to imagine such a comprehensive transit infrastructure in such a sparsely populated region of the United States.  (As for other types of public infrastructure, I note that Kirkenes had quite a large library in the center of town.  Every town had a cultural center, and the one at Vardo is pictured above).
Inn near Honningsvag, moved here from Lillehammer

One reason for some of this transportation infrastructure throughout sparsely populated parts of Norway is tourism, both domestic and international.  In the winter seeing the northern lights and going out on a sledge pulled by huskies is the thing.  As for us, we were there for the midnight sun--on the longest day of the year, when the light level seemed more dictated by cloud cover or lack thereof than by time of day.  Apparently there are lots of reindeer in the area, but we didn't see any in this part of Finnmark (we did see them elsewhere, on the island of Mageroya, in the area of Northern Cape and Honningsvag).
Street lights and bike path between Storskog/Russian
Border and Kirkenes, near Elvenes, Norway

The farther south we journeyed, the less "rural" the country looked, though single homes and small clusters of home are visible up and down the coast.  It's hard to know how many of them are summer homes, but all appeared well kept.  While our guide on Mageroya mentioned the area's population loss (in addition to the fact that children on the island have 13 years of education available there and must leave only for university studies), I'm thinking that the massive investment in transportation infrastructure--which in turn facilitates summer tourism--keeps many communities alive, if not thriving.  Other than tourism, fishing remains king all along the coast, and the Norwegian government still seems to assume it needs people to populate these villages--not merely to have workers fly in and fly out (as in Australia's remote mining regions) to work for a few weeks at a time.  Otherwise, it surely would not be so generous in support of infrastructure for these remote locales.

(I am reminded of this story in the New York Times from a few weeks ago--about Barentsburg, Norway.  Barentsburg is on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago north of this part of Norway, in the Barents Sea.  The economy there is mining based and many workers are transplanted from the Ukraine.  On Svalbard, too, however, a tourism economy is growing.  Indeed, Hurtigruten, who operated our "coastal express" also run tours there).

When I planned this trip to Norway, I wasn't thinking of it as an opportunity to see a rural place, but it certainly was.  Indeed, I'm now thinking that Norway, and other parts of Scandinavia, may feature the most rural parts of Europe.  And the experience has me thinking in new ways about how governments can support rural and remote communities.
Arrivals room at Kirkenes Airport

Bus stop in Elevenes, near Kirkenes, Norway

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rural poverty in Texas's Rio Grande Valley

The New York Times reported a few days ago out of Gardendale, Texas (LaSalle County), from what it characterized as a colonia, an unincorporated area in the Rio Grande Valley.  The story is a very, very sad one that emphasizes the inequality gap in a place where some are getting rich fast from the oil boom, while others can't feed their families.  That theme is reflected in the headline, "Boom Meets Bust in Texas:  Atop a Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In."  Manny Fernandez and Clifford Krauss's story features a  28-year-old Latina, Judy Vargas, who works cleaning motel rooms and as a server or cook at local restaurants.  She lives in a trailer and supports her three kids.  Her grandmother, who also works at a motel, lives with her.  At times, as many as 10 family members have lived in their trailer.  Mrs. Vargas's husband is apparently in and out of jail, most recently for a drug offense.  Judy Vargas's world is dismal for sure, but here's some additional local context about the area's "haves":
[A]n expanding natural gas processing plant ... lies in the heart of the Eagle Ford, a giant shale oil field that here in La Salle County alone produces more than $15 million worth of oil a day, or about one out of every 55 barrels produced in the United States.
Needless to say, Vargas and her family aren't "feeling the love" of the oil boom. She states:
It feels the same to us.  The money that they have, we didn’t have it before. And we don’t have it now.
Fernandez and Krauss go on to describe the place in more detail, as well as its place in the history of the war on poverty:
This rural patch of thick mesquite in the brush country south of San Antonio had been known for something else. Five miles from here in Cotulla, Lyndon B. Johnson at the age of 20 saw hardship so searing that it would help inspire his war on poverty.
Colonias are associated with rurality because they are, essentially by definition, unincorporated areas without services.  Indeed, when things go wrong--like the dumping of "fracking sand" on the town's main roads--the law is essentially absent, not stepping in to protect the health and welfare of the place's denizens.
Gardendale has no mayor, no police department, and only a handful of tilting signs and streetlights. It is often used as an illegal dumping ground.
The story highlights other environmental consequences of the oil and gas boom, including poor air quality.  It also notes some economic upsides of the boom:  iPads for all the students at the Cotulla school.   Oh, and a few more downsides:  a housing shortage and rents rising so fast the that the school district had to establish its own trailer park to house its teachers.  

In this sort of place, the county has to pick up the services slack that no municipality bears.  The top elected official in La Salle County is the county judge, Joel Rodriguez, Jr.  He indicates that "the boost in property and sales tax revenue from Eagle Ford activities had been offset by increases in county spending on road repairs, law enforcement, fire safety and administrative functions." He was not laudatory of the oil and gas industry's support for the poor, suggesting that it basically boiled down to public relations and photo ops--like distributing turkeys at the holidays.

We don't know exactly how small (or large) Gardendale is because even wikipedia doesn't have a listing for it. (This story is not about the Gardendale in Ector County, in West Texas).  What we do know is that Cotulla, the town near Gardendale where LBJ taught school, has a population of 3,614.  It is the county seat of LaSalle County, which is definitely nonmetropolitan with an official population of just 7,369.  Note, however, that wikipedia indicates that Cotulla alone, in June 2014, "'self-declared' its population at 7,000 based on utility connections."  This, too, is consistent with colonias, which are often heavily Latino and where we would expect residents to go under-counted by official measures.  Further, LaSalle County has a poverty rate of 23.6%.  Indeed, it is a persistent poverty county, meaning that its poverty rate has been 20% or higher for each of the last four decennial censuses.   Fernandez and Krauss provide this data about the the colonias and the Rio Grande Valley generally, in addition to more specifics about LaSalle County:
An estimated 500,000 people live in about 2,300 colonias in Texas, along its 1,200-mile border with Mexico. Many colonias have benefited from infrastructure improvements in recent years. Others remain institutionalized shantytowns without basic services like water and sewers. 
At least in part because of the oil economy, Gardendale is one of the better-off colonias. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found in a report to be released this year that 42 percent of the population of colonias in six Texas border counties — not including La Salle — lived below the poverty line, compared with 14.3 percent nationally. The median annual household income was $29,000. In La Salle County, other studies have shown that 39 percent of children live in poverty.
The story features other "locals" (like a cowboy turned roughneck) and is well worth a read in its entirety.  I first came across a much shorter version of the piece in the International New York Times as I am currently traveling abroad.  The full version in the domestic edition of the paper is much richer and provides a great deal more context for understanding what is happening in this out-of-the way place in south Texas.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The two Idahos of Bowe Bergdahl

I have written about this in a prior blog post and it was reflected in another NYT story last month. Now the "two Idahos" of Bowe Bergdahl is the topic of another New York Times story, "Many Sharp Turns in Bergdahl's Path to Army."

Those "two Idahos" are Hailey, where Bowe Bergdahl grew up, home schooled by his religious parents in a cabin with no phone, and Ketchum, which along with Sun Valley, is Hailey's posh neighbor about 10 miles to the north.  Hailey is the more staid, typical rural place, Ketchum the poster child for rural gentrification.  Both are in Blaine County, population 21,329.  Kirk Johnson and Matt Furber describe the two places and Bergdahl's experiences in them thusly:    

Ketchum as a "liberal-tinctured ski resort town, where [Bergdahl] took ballet and fencing lessons, met artists and debated philosophy" and "Hailey — the worker bee colony to Ketchum’s moneyed hive."  There, Bergdahl "learned the ways of guns, became a crack shot and developed an abiding interest in the military."

Johnson and Furber continue their description of Bergdahl's upbringing:
Although his home life was strict, Sergeant Bergdahl was given a long leash by his parents to explore Idaho on foot or bike or motorcycle, and was taught to be self-sufficient. “If there’s anyone from Blaine County who could take a compass and a knife and walk off into the mountains to survive on squirrels, it was Bowe,” one friend said. 
He routinely rode his bike to various jobs, including one at the Blaine County Gun Club, a shooting range about 13 miles from his home where he loaded trap machines and cleaned up. “He was one of the better workers I’ve ever had,” said David Rosser … former president of the club. “He would put his head down and do what you told him to do. He was respectful and took orders well.”
And so journalists continue to ponder the enigma of Bowe Bergdahl.

Hailey's population is 7,960, while that for Ketchum is 2,689.  Sun Valley's population is a tightly controlled 1,406.  The poverty rate in Blaine County is a measly 8.9%.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Courting the rural vote in Senate races, from Alaska to Arkansas

Jeremy Peters reports in the New York Times today from Napaskiak, Alaska, population 405, where Mark Begich, the U.S. Senator from Alaska was recently campaigning for votes among Alaska Natives.  The headline is "Past Road's End, Democrats Dig for Native Votes," and Peters reports that Democrats have never been able to rely on the Native vote in Alaska, where for years that vote went to long-serving Republican Senator Ted Stevens.  Indeed, the lede is
No roads go this deep into the tundra, especially not for Democrats.
* * *
Native populations are one of the most important but least understood constituencies for the Democratic Party, and as Alaska has shown, they do not predictably break for one party or the other.
Nevertheless, Begich won the rural vote by five percentage points in 2008, and Alaska Native turnout is expected to be higher this year because an Alaska Native, Byron Mallott, is the Democratic nominee for governor.

Peters explains the increased significance of the rural and Alaska Native vote this year--not only in Alaska, but for the nation:
Unlikely as it may seem, Democrats consider tiny tribal villages like this one — about 60 miles upriver from the Bering Sea, with a population a little over 400 — so vital to their tenuous majority in the United States Senate that they are building a vast outreach operation here and across rural Alaska. 
Speaking of people--and places--that are not understood by outsiders, I like Peters's effort to describe the socio-spatial milieu, as with this quote from local Vivan Korthuis:
It’s really hard to describe to people how we live here; we don’t even have cement [because the freezing and thawing would shatter it].  When I went to school on the East Coast, it was like describing living on the moon.
But Peters's story doesn't end with the importance of the Native vote in Alaska, where Natives are one fifth of the population.  Peters also touches on the significance of the American Indian vote in recent Senatorial races in North Dakota and in Montana (where American Indians are 6.5% of the voting age population), and he explains what Democrats are doing to shore up this vote in the current election cycle:
The effort [in Alaska], like a similar one aimed at Native Americans in Montana, will involve 130 workers in five new field offices spread out across a land mass roughly twice the size of Texas — from here in the state’s southwest to north of the Arctic Circle. 
Working with local chiefs and community leaders, they will undertake the kind of face-to-face campaigning that is so critical in remote areas, where votes are won not with attack ads or automated phone calls but the old-fashioned way: by visiting people at their homes, registering those who have never voted and persuading as many of them as possible to mail ballots in early.
Peters notes that Obama recently visited Indian country in North Dakota, the first President to do so since Bill Clinton in 1999.

This attention to the American Indian and Alaska Native vote has necessarily required more federal attention to issues of concern to these populations, and though Peters doesn't mention it specifically, that necessarily includes rural development.

As for what is happening outside Alaska and the West, Peters mentions rural constituencies in Arkansas and North Carolina.  In the former state, Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is using a "network of field offices and volunteers who will fan out in less-populated, heavily African-American areas" in the southern and eastern parts of the state.  Kay Hagan of North Carolina is targeting farmers in that state's rural northeast.

As for the overall significance of the rural vote to control of the Senate, Peters writes:
The field work needed to win in the rural states that hold the key to control of the Senate next year inverts the election model Democrats so often rely on to win. Especially in Alaska, Arkansas and Montana, the party’s base is not conveniently concentrated in cities surrounded by a sea of more Republican-leaning areas.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rural lack of anonymity not at play with border enforcement

The New York Times reported yesterday from Arivaca, Arizona, population 909, just a few miles north of the Mexican border.  The headline is "Border Patrol Scrutiny Stirs Anger in Arizona Town," and Fernanda Santos reports that residents of Arivaca--old and new alike--are fed up with the frequent stops they must endure at Border Patrol checkpoints.  Here's the lede:
Every time Jack Driscoll drives the 32 miles from this remote outpost in southeastern Arizona to the closest supermarket, or to doctor’s appointments, or to a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, he must stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint and answer the same question: “Are you a U.S. citizen?” 
Sometimes, Border Patrol agents ask where he is going or coming from, the type of car he is driving, what is in that bag on the back seat or what brings him to these parts, even though he has lived here for more than a year.
But this experience is not linked to Driscoll's status as a relative newcomer.  Others who have lived in the area much longer than Driscoll are also stopped.  You see, the lack of anonymity that would normally serve as buffer between residents and law enforcement--which would mean that law enforcement would learn over time who is a U.S. citizen and who is not--doesn't work in this context because, as Santos explains:
Because the border agents who staff them are on duty for only a few weeks, their relationship to the community has never evolved beyond an adversarial one.
Indeed, Santos explains, even school buses full of children and "the minibus that takes older residents on weekly shopping trips also get stopped" at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road, which apparently lies between the community of Arivaca and more populous parts of Pima County--where most services are.

Santos describes the checkpoint experience as similar to "going through airport security (albeit more briefly, and not everyone gets searched)."
Some of those checkpoints, like the ones that ring Arivaca, operate under canopy tents set up on the side of country roads flanked by wilderness and pasture, a cramped air-conditioned trailer offering the agents’ only respite from the oppressive desert heat. Others stretch along all lanes of major highways that lead from Mexico into the United States, visible from many miles away and, for drivers, virtually impossible to avoid.
Santos goes onto describe a citizens group of volunteers in Arivaca who have been monitoring the checkpoint.  They track the length of the stops and such.  So far, they report seeing no one arrested and no drugs seized.

Is rural America the "real" America?

That is what is suggested by one of the folks interviewed during Damien Cave and Todd Heisler's journey up I-35 from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minnesota.  That series of stories, vignettes, biographies has appeared in the New York Times over recent weeks.  Here's the quote from Ben Bodom, age 57, who lives in Minneapolis and works for General Mills as an information technology specialist.  Bodom came to Wisconsin from Ghana as a high school exchange student and apparently stayed.  Here's the quote:
When you go to the rural areas, that’s when you understand what America is. The fact of the matter is that for them, everybody counts.
Interesting.  I doubt that many native born citizens of the United States would agree that everyone counts--indeed, those who surely count least are those are in rural areas.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Persistent (rural) poverty featured in the NY Times Magazine

Annie Lowery's report in this week-end's Magazine is headlined "What's the Matter with Eastern Kentucky?" In it Lowery fingers Clay County, Kentucky as "dead last"…"statistically speaking" among all counties in the United States.  As Lowery expresses it, Clay County "might as well be a different country."  Here's the lede:
There are many tough places in this country: the ghost cities of Detroit, Camden and Gary, the sunbaked misery of inland California and the isolated reservations where Native American communities were left to struggle. But in its persistent poverty, Eastern Kentucky — land of storybook hills and drawls ­ — just might be the hardest place to live in the United States. 
Clay County, population 21,634, only slightly edges out five other Eastern Kentucky counties for last place.  Those other counties are Breathitt (population 13,545), Jackson (population 13,427), Lee (population 7,260), Leslie (population 11,019) and Magoffin (population 12,950).

Here are some of the sobering metrics about Clay County:
  • Median household income:  $22,296, which is just above the poverty line and just over half the nationwide median. 
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher:  7.4% 
  • Disability rate:  11.7%, compared to a national figure of 1.3%
  • Life expectancy:  six years shorter than the national average
  • Obesity rate:  nearly half
Lowery doesn't mention that the county's poverty rate is 34.5%.  Nor does she note that the county's population is 92.7% non-Hispanic white and just 4.4% African American.  In other words, this story is a different spin not only on place and poverty, but also--at least implicitly--on race and poverty. (I have occasionally complained on these pages about media failure to depict white poverty and to collapse the poverty problem into the racism problem.  See also this post on The Root making a similar point).

I do appreciate Lowery calling attention to rural poverty which, as she notes, is so often overlooked.  
The public debate about the haves and the have-nots tends to focus on the 1 percent, especially on the astonishing, breakaway wealth in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington and the great disparities contained therein. But what has happened in the smudge of the country between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities. In some places, decades of growth have failed to raise incomes, and of late, poverty has become more concentrated not in urban areas but in rural ones.
Lowery's story is very much about rural restructuring and how it has left places like Eastern Kentucky worse off in many ways than 50 years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson went there to declare his "War on Poverty." But beyond the rural restructuring backdrop--which in Appalachia is largely about the decline of coal (read more here, here and here)--Lowery also queries what should be done about, in, and for places like Clay County:  
[R]ural poverty is largely shunted aside in the conversation about inequality, much in the way rural areas have been left behind by broader shifts in the economy. The sheer intractability of rural poverty raises uncomfortable questions about how to fix it, or to what extent it is even fixable.
And, she gives material spatiality its due:
In many cases, a primary problem in poor rural areas is the very fact that they’re rural — remote, miles from major highways and plagued by substandard infrastructure. Think about the advantages of urban areas, described by thinkers going back to Jane Jacobs and beyond. Density means more workers to choose from, more potential customers, more spillover knowledge from nearby companies. As such, cities punch above their weight, economically speaking. 
In light of that, Lowery queries whether it makes sense to focus on investments in people rather than in places?  Lowery suggests that it does, acknowledging that one challenge is the immobility of the poor.  (That was an issue in this blog post from earlier in the month…) Then, too, there's the tricky politics of promoting and facilitating out-migration.
Imagine Senator Mitch McConnell running for re-election on the campaign slogan: “I’ll get you out of this moribund area and up to the wilderness of North Dakota!”
And that, at least implicitly, acknowledges rural attachment to place … which brings us to Lowery's quote from Jeff Whitehead, who helps retrain laid-off coal miners through the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.
There’s just very limited opportunity for the people who were working in the region. …[Moving away is] a really hard pill to swallow. People are really connected to place here. For a lot of people, it’s the last thing they’re doing. They’re holding off until they have no other choice.
Whitehead says he has helped 220 families move away from the region in recent years.

A story related to Lowery's report is "Where are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?" from the New York Times Upshot.  There, Alan Flippen lists the four other counties rounding out the nation's "bottom ten."
I have included the demographic information from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that each of these counties--in contrast with those in Eastern Kentucky--is predominantly African-American.

Flippen's story also features a cool interactive, county-level map. Like Lowery, Flippen provides some explicit rural-urban contrast by comparing Clay County with Wayne County, Michigan, home of Detroit: 
Not a single major urban county ranks in the bottom 20 percent or so on this scale [of six metrics], and when you do get to one — Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit — there are some significant differences. While Wayne County’s unemployment rate (11.7 percent) is almost as high as Clay County’s, and its life expectancy (75.1 years) and obesity rate (41.3 percent) are also similar, almost three times as many residents (20.8 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income ($41,504) is almost twice as high.
But Flippen also does a rural-rural comparison--or more precisely a nonmetrolitan-to-nonmetrpolitan one--between Clay County and Los Alamos County, New Mexico, the top county based on the combination of metrics.  Los Alamos County is home of Los Alamos National Laboratory and just 18,000 residents, and its poverty rate is just 4.9%:
Only 7.4 percent of Clay County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 63.2 percent do in Los Alamos. The median household income in Los Alamos County is $106,426, almost five times what the median Clay County household earns. In Clay County, 12.7 percent of residents are unemployed, and 11.7 percent are on disability; the corresponding figures in Los Alamos County are 3.5 percent and 0.3 percent. Los Alamos County’s obesity rate is 22.8 percent, while Clay County’s is 45.5 percent. And Los Alamos County residents live 11 years longer, on average — 82.4 years vs. 71.4 years in Clay County.
It's an interesting contrast between two types of rural places--one reflecting a sort of gentrification (Los Alamos County is contiguous to upscale Santa Fe and Sandoval counties …but also not that far from Rio Arriba (19.3% poverty rate), San Juan (20.4% poverty), and McKinley (33.5% poverty) counties, for which the metrics are not very favorable) and the other reflecting old-fashioned rural poverty in a resource/extraction dependent county where the jobs have moved on.  Ironically, though, both counties are highly dependent on the federal government--Los Alamos County for jobs (1 in 5 residents are employed at the national lab) and Clay County for disability, Medicaid, and other federal and state benefits.  Indeed, the USDA ERS classifies the economies of both as "federal-state government dependent."  Hmmm.  In one, the government provides good jobs, and people with good educations move to the place for those jobs.  In the other, the government provides something of a handout, even as it fails to address structural deficits or invest in rural economic development.  Clearly, the latter is not a strategy that's working for Clay County.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Save the Date: Poverty and Place Conference, UC Davis, 13-14 November 2014

The Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis will host a conference on Poverty and Place on 13-14 November, 2014.  Here are the basics:

The conference will bring together scholars from across many disciplines—sociology, economics, law, education, social work, geography, planning—to present and discuss their work on the ways in which space and place inflect various dimensions of poverty.

Among other topics, scholars will address the ways in which place can aggravate poverty, as in persistent poverty counties and regions, but also how place-specific interventions can effectively ameliorate poverty. Papers addressing different aspects of urban, suburban and rural poverty will be part of the conference agenda.

Confirmed presenters include:
• Scott Allard, Social Work, University of Chicago
• Evelyn Blumenberg, Planning, School of Public Affairs, UCLA
• Tracey Farrigan, Geographer, USDA Economic Research Service
• Victoria Lawson and Sarah Elwood, Geography, University of Washington
• Bertrall Ross, Law, UC Berkeley
• Kai Schafft, Sociologist in Dept. of Education, Penn State University
• Jennifer Sherman, Sociology, Washington State University
• Margaret Weir, Sociology, UC Berkeley

The conference will be back to back with ClassCrits VII, hosted by the UC Davis School of Law on November 14-15, 2014.  Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut, moving to the University of California, Irvine, School of Law this summer, will give a key note lecture to bridge the two conferences.  Gustafson's recent book is Cheating Welfare.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Virginia town divided over planned presence of young immigrants

NPR reports today from Lawrenceville, Virginia, about the federal government's plan to house unaccompanied immigrant youth in a facility there that was formerly a private college.  Here's an excerpt from Jennifer Ludden's story:
The first busload was expected as early as Thursday, but a local backlash has put the plan on hold. 
Word spread this week that the detention center was a done deal, and it didn't go over well that most in this town of 1,400 had heard nothing of plans for the shelter.
Ludden quotes Brian Roberts, sheriff of Brunswick County, population 17,434.  He says his main worry is public safety:  
That's my job … and so 500 kids unaccounted for — illegal alien children in my little sleepy town — I just don't think it's the right fit for this community.
Roberts is also also upset about being left out of the loop:
I was just shocked.  The way this process has been handled puts more fear in our eyes, because it's been shoved down our throat.  
Others in the community are more open to the plan, in part because of its economic benefits for the area.