Monday, May 21, 2018

Farmer suicides in Australia, old news down under but now in the New York Times

The New York Times today includes a long-ish feature story on farmer suicides in Australia.  The headline is "A Booming Economy with a Tragic Price," which hints at the story's inequality and globalization angles, but not the mental health/rural services angle which is also a key component of this excellent reporting:
Family farms like Mr. Guy’s [who committed suicide in 2016] have been the producers of Australia’s agricultural bounty, and the bedrock of its self-image as a nation of proudly self-reliant types, carving a living from a vast continent. But as Australia’s rural economy has boomed on the back of growing exports, small farmers have not always shared in the bounty, with many forced into borrowing money or selling their farms.
This is old news "down under," according to my Aussie friends, and I've seen some coverage of similar trends in the United States, as here and here.  (This is also reminiscent of the deaths of despair associated with rural folks in the U.S., though in Australia it is men who are disproportionately dying). One reason, it seems, that this trend is now attracting so much attention in the NYT (this is part I of II in the NYT, on "Regional Australia," a term used to connote "rural" in that nation) is the family murder-suicide that occurred a few weeks ago in Western Australia.

Here's a further sobering, data-dense excerpt from Jacqueline Williams' feature story in the NYT:
Nationwide, people living in remote Australia now take their own lives at twice the rate of those in the city: Every year, there are about 20 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in isolated rural areas, compared with 10 in urban communities, according to independent studies of local health figures.
In very remote parts of the country, the figure is closer to 23, the studies say.
Data out of the state of Queensland are even worse, also indicating that the more remote the farmer, the higher the suicide risk.  

Williams then takes up that which differentiates what is happening in Australia from what is happening in other nations where farmers are experiencing higher rates of suicide:
[T]he crisis seems to be worsening at a time when, at least on paper, the [Australian] rural economy is quite robust.
* * * 
There is a painful irony here, they say, since Australia has embraced free trade in farm goods, and even pressed other nations to liberalize their markets, in the belief that agriculture is one of its most competitive industries. 
And Australian farm exports are growing: Last year, they totaled 44.8 billion Australian dollars, or $33.5 billion, up more than a fifth from just six years earlier, according to the National Farmers Federation. 
But many experts say the biggest beneficiaries are larger corporate farms. Family farms are less able to ride out fluctuations in far-flung global markets that can drive down prices of their crops while raising the cost of tractor fuel. 
 So, neoliberalism does a number down under, too.

As I hinted above, this story also includes important information on the dearth of services in rural Australia, and how mental health services are being delivered there--sometimes in innovative fashion.  The story is well worth a read in its entirety.                                                                         

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Failing to see childcare and transportation deficits in rural America

I blogged last week about the high-profile media attention being showered on a proposed Michigan law that would exempt counties with high unemployment (8.5% and above) from work requirements being imposed on Medicaid.  Then a related piece was published in the New York Times Upshot.  In "Which Poor People Shouldn't Have to Work for Aid?" Emily Badger and Margot-Sanger Katz quote Heather Hahn, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population at the Urban Institute.
The problem, Ms. Hahn and others say, is that geography captures just one kind of barrier to employment. “If you’re taking only the geography as the structure,” Ms. Hahn said, “it’s really overlooking the much more obvious racial structure.” African-Americans who face racial discrimination in the job market are more likely to have a hard time finding work. 
And people who can’t afford cars and live where public transit is inadequate have a harder time. So do the poor with criminal records, or those without a high school diploma, or people with problems securing child care.
Policies that exempt high-unemployment places, but not people who face other obstacles to work, selectively acknowledge barriers for only some of the poor. In effect, they suggest that unemployment is a systemic problem in struggling rural communities — but that in poor urban neighborhoods, it’s a matter of individual decisions.
They then quote David Super of Georgetown Law, who studies public benefits programs.    
The hardships of areas that have seen industry leave are very real; the hardships of rural areas that have had jobs automated away are real.
* * * 
But so are hardships that come from a lack of child care or transportation, he said. “It is troubling that one set of conditions are being taken seriously and another are being scoffed at.”
One thing both Hahn and Super seem not to realize is that public transportation and child care deficits are much more acute in rural communities than urban ones (a point made, with lots of data back up, in my 2007 piece on welfare reform as a mismtach for rural communities."  And the problem of criminal records looms large for the chronically unemployed in rural places, too.  Employers don't want to hire these folks, even when they're white.  (And I do acknowledge that the criminalization of poverty and the war on drugs have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color).

I agree that we should attend to all of these barriers to employment, but the "rural v. urban" and "black v. white" framing is divisive.  It echoes the "who's worse off" or "ranking of oppressions" frame that has become too common amidst the proliferation of identity politics.  It fails to seek common ground.  Which reminds me that today is the second Monday in the 40 days of action invoked by the revival of Martin Luther King, Jr., Poor People's Campaign.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

John Kelly overlooks rural America--and Christopher Ingraham pounces

Christopher Ingraham, the uber urbanite turned rural refugee/transplant who writes for the Washington Post, dug into John Kelly, President Trump's Chief of Staff on Friday after Kelly spoke against the immigration of "overwhelmingly rural people" who would not "easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society."
Kelly also cited immigrants' education levels, English-language ability and general workplace skills as potential barriers to assimilation. But the choice of “rural” as a detriment for integration into modern society is an odd one, given that it applies to nearly 1 in 5 current residents of the United States. 
* * * 
While rural places account for 19.3 percent of the population, they make up 97 percent of the country's land area. Geographically speaking, the country is “overwhelmingly rural.” And in several states, including politically important ones, the rural population is much higher than 19 percent.
Ingraham's story is here.  The Kelly interview with NPR is here; you will see that its focus is not on the rural-urban divide or any rural issues.  Rather, it is on immigration more broadly, along with some other issues du jour.

Nevertheless, Ingraham picks up the rural torch:
More broadly, rurality remains a central part of American identity — wide-open spaces, amber waves of grain, mom and apple pie — in ways that population figures don't fully capture. In many quarters of the national political conversation, rural America still gets conflated with “real America.” 
All of this brings me to an issue I have explored elsewhere:  in what ways is the "rural" part(s) of a developing world country (often with majority of population) similar to the rural parts of America (with a shrinking minority of the population)?  Read some here and here.  In other words, does Ingraham's argument hold water?  Will rural folks from the developing world have an easy time integrating into America because America is roughly (less than!) a fifth rural?  But aren't rural Americans culturally highly marginalized?  Wasn't that a major lesson of the 2016 election?

Also, of what relevance is it if/that rural Americans are less tolerant of immigrants (those other rural people from elsewhere in the world) than are urban Americans?  That intolerance has been a common theme of much of the "race v. economy" speculation over the reasons for the rise of Trump, so is it fair for Ingraham to ignore it? Is it appropriate for Ingraham to invoke America's "rural-ness" in support of an argument for immigration from largely rural countries?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Michigan law waiving safety net work requirement would have disparate impact on urban (blacks), favor rural (whites)

I'm in the process of writing a book chapter about how work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid--the legislative and administrative "flavor of the month" in Trump's America--are a mismatch for rural America, where labor markets are thin and the few jobs available are often mis-matches for local labor forces.  Another problem is that poor public transportation infrastructure makes it difficult for folks to get to jobs or the substitute training requirements imposed by some states.  This book chapter will follow up on a 2007 article I published about how welfare reform's work requirements were a poor fit in rural America.     

That's all background for why a colleague called my attention to this NY Times op-ed this week.  It it titled "Michigan's Discriminatory Work Requirement," and the authors are a pair of University of Michigan law professors, Nicholas Bagley and Eli Savit.  The core argument is reflected in this excerpt:
Last month, the [Michigan] State Senate passed a bill that would require Medicaid beneficiaries to find work or else lose their coverage. The bill, now under consideration in the Michigan House, has come under fire for harming the poor and disabled, as well as for burdening struggling families with needless paperwork. More than 100,000 people may lose health instance if it passes. 
There’s another flaw in the bill, however, one that exposes it to serious legal challenge: It’s racially discriminatory. 
Many of the legislators supporting Michigan’s work requirements come from rural districts with high unemployment. Many of those districts are predominantly white. To protect their constituents, these legislators have included a safety valve in the bill: If you live in a county with a high unemployment rate (over 8.5 percent), you’re exempt from the work requirements. The rationale? When there are no jobs to be had, it doesn’t make sense to punish you for not working.

Yet that safety valve does not apply equally. Specifically, it does little for Michigan’s black residents, who are concentrated in cities like Detroit, Muskegon and Flint. Those cities suffer from chronically high unemployment rates, but they’re all in counties with low rates.
The Washington Post followed up a few days later with this analysis from Jeff Stein and Andrew Van Dam. The headline blares: "Michigan's GOP has a Plan to Shield some People from Medicaid Work Requirements.  They're Overwhelmingly White." 
Medicaid enrollment data provided to The Post by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows that this exemption would overwhelmingly benefit white people while leaving the work requirements in place for all but a sliver of the affected African American population.

Without the exemption, the work requirements are projected to apply primarily to approximately 700,000 Michigan residents enrolled in Medicaid under broader eligibility rules passed under Gov. Rick Snyder (R). 
African Americans make up about 23 percent of that population, but they would make up only 1.2 percent of the people eligible for the unemployment exemption. White people make up 57 percent of the total potential affected population, but they make up 85 percent of the group eligible for the unemployment exemption, according to an analysis of the state's data.
I read both pieces to imply that the proposed law's sponsors intended to discriminate against African Americans living in the state's major cities.  That is entirely possible, but another explanation is also possible:  the legislators were simply trying to do a good turn for rural folks facing crappy labor market opportunities.  Perhaps this is just an illustration that the scale of the county is a poor one for these purposes.  That is, the scale of the county makes some sense in relatively rural areas where the employment rate doesn't vary much across the county.  It's a poor proxy for the robustness of the labor market in a county that includes both core urban and suburban (and even exurban) areas.

Bagley and Savit do at one point acknowledge that discriminatory intent may be absent here, and they also helpfully explain that it doesn't matter under the relevant federal law, where the test is discriminatory impact.  The authors close with reference to bigger picture issues that implicate the ease (or lack thereof) of mobility to places with better job markets.  They also then highlight rural-urban differences and, as I read it, effectively and unhelpfully pit rural and urban against each other:
If work requirements were a good idea, conservative Michigan legislators wouldn’t need to exempt their rural constituents. They’d just offer a tough-love message: If you want health insurance on the public dime, you should move to a place where you can find work. 
That’s not the message, though. The message, instead, is that work requirements are good for people who live in hard-bitten cities and bad for those who live in hard-bitten counties.  
Given the lack of political power I perceive to be held by rural people and places, I'm surprised the Michigan legislators thought of them at all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The hidden costs of a legal education and what it means for rural America.

A few days ago, Vermont Digger published an article written by a young law school graduate who is living in South Burlington, Vermont and finding the cost of living rather cost prohibitive. While the article clearly wants us to focus on the $200,000 student debt, I believe that it is more important to focus on the substantial amount of consumer debt that he has incurred, much of it due to his time in law school and his bar exam prep afterwards. While there are government programs to help indebted graduates manage federal student loan debt (which the author indicates is the entirety of his debt), there aren't programs that help with consumer debt that you accumulate in association with your studies.

The author is a young law school graduate with a public interest job and spouse attending the University of Vermont. In addition to $200,000 in student debt, he has $30,000 in consumer debt, split between credit cards and a bar study loan. The author attributes his credit card debt to the cost of moving for school and living there. He attended Dartmouth College and Vermont Law school, both rural schools in New England. After graduation, he got married and opted to remain in Vermont, possibly with the intention of raising his family and living there indefinitely. In this space, I have previously covered the role that rural law schools can play in attracting people to rural areas and the author of this piece is a shining example of my desired outcome.  What I find troubling however is his contention that living in Vermont is cost prohibitive and that it may drive him away from the state entirely.

Even if the author lives in a more urban part of Vermont, he is still living in a predominantly rural state that is facing a severe brain drain and aging issue. In fact, Governor Phil Scott has made it a priority to attract and retain young people in Vermont. We can set aside the more nuanced arguments about whether or not Vermont actually as expensive as the author claims. Though, South Burlington is certainly more expensive than Rutland or St. Johnsbury, for example. It is important however to focus on the fact that this person wants to make Vermont his home but feels he may have to move to an urban area where he can command a higher salary in order to pay down his debt.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer salaries in rural areas are lower than urban areas and this divide can often be very wide. However, these lower salaries are often partially off-set by a lower cost of living. In a situation like the author's however, there may be pressure to find a higher paying job so he can pay the debt off as quickly as possible.

You may wonder how a person could incur $15,000 in credit card debt through three years of law school. It starts before day one. What may surprise you is that there is often no funding for a person to move to law school so students often have to pay the cost of securing an apartment and moving their belongings entirely on their own. While students are typically eligible for federal student aid (often in the form of loans) in order to defray the cost of living, it is often not enough and does not cover relocation. Here is a copy of Vermont Law School's current cost of living estimates. As you can see, the cost of relocation is not included in the budget. This cost increases even more if a student does not stay in the area for the summer since they often have to vacate their properties and move their stuff to a different location, either to their summer destinations or into storage, another expense that is not accounted for in a cost of living budget. For many students, particularly low-income students, this puts them at an immediate deficit.

Further - health insurance is also not apart of the budget so if a student opts to buy health insurance, they'll incur a significant cost there as well. While some students may be eligible for Medicaid or other government subsidized health care, many either do not learn of their eligibility and think that they aren't eligible because of their status as students. Students who are not eligible for Medicaid have to either hope that they do not have a medical emergency or make the decision to incur the costs of health insurance.

Of course, I just discussed predictable costs. Imagine the extra debt that a student could incur if they have an emergency. A law student may, for example, need a car to get to their externships. If the car breaks down, they would likely have to finance the repair on a credit card, which will add to their debt load.

There is also the aforementioned $15,000 in bar study loans, which are used to finance the cost of studying for the bar exam and not being able to work until the results come in. As you might imagine, students who have little to no parental support may need this money in order to pay their bills while they wait for bar results. With graduation in May, the exam in July, and the results coming in at any time between September and December, access to that money may be a lifeline.

Why do I focus on the consumer debt so heavily and not the $200,000 in student debt? The federal government, through the Pay as You Earn program, has already devised a way to deal with the author's situation.  Under current guidelines, the author is able to only pay 10% of his discretionary income (which is calculated as household income minus the poverty line) with forgiveness coming in 25 years. If the author stays in his current state government job, he would qualify to have it forgiven in 10 years under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. What this says is that the federal government has recognized the need for people with high debt loads to be able to serve disadvantaged communities and has provided a way to make high student debt affordable to the debtor. These protections however do not extend to the private consumer debt that one incurs through their law school studies.

For rural communities, which are often unable to offer high salaries, the fact that students are coming out severely indebted is a particularly major issue. Students are going to feel compelled to get rid of the debt and know that they can often find a higher paying job in an urban area, even if it means possibly leaving the legal field. Furthermore, a lot of the jobs in rural spaces are going to carry some amount of risk or at least lack of certainty. Rural legal practice may involve small firm work where your pay will fluctuate based on your case load in a given month or it may even involve hanging up a shingle and going it solo. Both of these options may be unappealing or prohibitive to someone with a high debt load.

Most jurisdictions that have attempted to address the lawyer shortage have included some financial incentives so it is recognized that low wages are an issue. I am not entirely sure what the solution would be to help those with high consumer debt loads. Perhaps we could include a relocation grant in student aid packages, subsidize licensing fees for low-income students, and increase funding for the social safety net so students are less reliant on debt to finance their way through schools. Perhaps schools could also offer financial assistance if a student has an emergency that interferes with their ability to complete their degree requirements or attend opportunities that will increase their marketability after graduation. There are many potential options that could be tried.

It would be a shame if the author of the article were to leave Vermont for a place like New York or Boston. Places like Vermont need the author in order to continue to grow and thrive.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Trump Administration challenges tribal sovereignty

As states begin to roll out work requirements for Medicaid recipients, tribal governments find themselves among the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Tribal communities and reservations are the most economically disadvantaged areas in the country, with high unemployment rates and levels of poverty. Recognizing the economic hardships that they currently face, many tribes are seeking exemptions from these requirements, arguing that forcing work requirements on tribal citizens would result in them losing access to health care. The Trump Administration has however denied these requests, claiming that tribes are a separate race, not a government, and that granting an exemption would be an unallowable racial preference. This decision by the Trump Administration is sadly apart of a deplorable (no pun intended) pattern of treatment of tribal people by Donald J. Trump.

To anyone even vaguely familiar with Indian law, it should be clear that the Trump Administration is blatantly mistaken in its characterization of Native tribes. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution plainly gives Congress the ability to regular commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and with Indian tribes. The separation of Native tribes from states and foreign nations represents the creation of a unique legal status, which was later clarified in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia as that of a "domestic dependent nation." The right of the United States government to consider this special relationship when making decisions was re-affirmed in Morton v. Mancari when it was held that a preference for hiring Natives to work in the Bureau of Indian Affairs was essentially akin to a Senator having a preference for hiring someone from their home state. In that case, the Court explicitly rejected the notion that a preference for Native people necessitated a race based preference but was instead a preference based on political status.

Based on established precedent, the Trump Administration could legally exempt an entire tribe from Medicaid work requirements imposed by states. By tying exemption from the work requirements to tribal membership, the Administration would be honoring tribal sovereignty and recognizing the existence of tribes as separate political entities. Tribes exist separately from the states and should not be forced to honor onerous requirements imposed upon them by entities under whose jurisdiction they generally do not fall. Tribes after all exist in a direct government to government relationship with the federal government. As mentioned above, it has also been consistently held that tribal preference is not a matter of race but political status and it is shameful that the Trump Administration is either ignorant of or completely unwilling to follow that precedent.

To anyone who has followed Donald Trump, this ignorance of tribal sovereignty should honestly be no surprise. As President, not only has he placed a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office but he has also regularly attacked Senator Elizabeth Warren by calling her "Pocahontas."  In 1993, Trump directly attacked tribal sovereignty in testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources by saying:
I listen about sovereign nation, the great sovereign nation, and yet $30 billion to all of the various programs was contributed to the sovereign nation for education, for welfare, for this, for that. I listened as to sovereign nation, and yet the sovereign nation and the people of the sovereign nation have the right to vote in our country. I listen as to sovereign nation, all of the medical, all of the other treaties. I want to know, can Indians sign treaties with foreign nations? Can they go and sign a treaty with Germany? The answer is no. How is it a sovereign nation?
In true Trumpian fashion, he later said, "Nobody is more for the Indians than Donald Trump."

A modern President's ignorance about tribal sovereignty is, sadly, not unprecedented. After all, in 2004, President George W. Bush was famously tripped up on a question about what tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century. What makes Bush different from Trump however is the intent behind the ignorance. In answering the question, Bush acknowledged that the relationship between the federal government and tribes is between two sovereign entities whereas Trump appears to question the entire basis of tribal sovereignty. Even though Bush appeared to lack an understanding of the intricacies of tribal sovereignty, he acknowledged and affirmed the notion that tribes exist in a government to government relationship with the federal government, a premise that Trump has repeatedly rejected.

You can argue that Donald Trump could have evolved on tribal sovereignty in the last 25 years, many people change their opinions as they learn more about a topic. However, the actions of his administration have only served to prove that Trump has remained consistent in his views of Native tribes and tribal citizens.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Assembling a SWAT team in rural South Carolina

Here is what the South Carolina Dept. of Corrections said about its 4-hour delay in responding to a prison riot in Bishopville, South Carolina on Sunday night.  Seven prisoners died and 17 were injured  in the melee.  Here's I'm quoting from the New York Times report by Richard Fausset: 
When the trouble started, Mr. Stirling [director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections] said later in a telephone interview, there were only two guards on duty in each of the three housing units, and they were armed only with pepper spray. Each housing unit holds about 250 inmates. 
Assembling an armed SWAT team in a rural area on a Sunday night takes time, he said.
Bishopville, population 3,238, is the county seat of Lee County, population 17,635, and is 40 miles from the state capital, Columbia. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Small-town government run amok (Part VI): Lake Arthur, New Mexico makes billionaire Robert Mercer a law enforcement officer

Bloomberg news reported this week on quite a little scandal out of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, population 436, on the state line abutting far west Texas.  It seems the tiny police department of tiny Lake Arthur has been been making reserve law enforcement officers of folks like Robert Mercer, the conservative billionaire, so that these folks are authorized to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the United States.

Zachary Mider's story for Bloomberg begins with a firmly tongue-in-cheek description of the place and its law enforcement needs, along with the terms of Mercer's engagement there as a reserve officer:
If Mercer’s trips to Lake Arthur resembled my recent visit, he might’ve climbed into the passenger seat of [Police Chief] Norwood’s police truck, whose black-and-white paint job is fading in the wind-whipped sand. He and Norwood might’ve rolled past the house where someone reported spotting a stolen car—a false alarm, it turns out. While monitoring radio chatter, the plutocrat and the chief might have jawed about the latest news in a town so small it has no stores: the recent pursuit of a motorist across half the county; the record of the high school’s six-man football team; reports of stolen pecans. Pulling up a chair at an Italian restaurant in nearby Hagerman, the chief might’ve urged Mercer to try the lasagna. 
For most of the past six years, as Mercer became one of the country’s political kingmakers, he was also periodically policing Lake Arthur, according to the department. If he followed Norwood’s protocols—and Norwood insists no volunteers get special treatment—he would’ve patrolled at least six days a year. He would’ve paid for travel and room and board, and supplied his own body armor and weapon.
After the Bloomberg story was featured on WBUR on Mondaythe program--which apparently had 150 reserve officers at its peak--was abruptly ended on Tuesday.  (Read more here, too) The mayor of Lake Arthur put Chief Norwood on administrative leave, and his credentials were recalled.

Don't miss Mider's full report on the Lake Arthur program, with lots of details on Mercer's politics, too.  Turns out Mercer is quite the gun enthusiast, and getting this concealed carry opportunity through the back door circumvented his inability to get a concealed carry permit on Long Island, where he lives.  What Mercer is best known for, of course, is bankrolling Breitbart and being a king-maker vis a vis Donald Trump.   

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

During this week 5 years ago - New York Times highlights rural lawyer shortage

Facebook's On This Day feature is often a treasure trove of old memories and items that you thought important to share at one point in your life. Today as I looked through my memories, I found that I shared this article from the New York Times five years ago. At the time, I was a 1L at Michigan State University and incredibly excited to see that the Times had opted to cover an issue that I considered very important. Many of the issues addressed in this article have been expanded upon in this space on various occasions but I still think that it is important to share again because it highlighted, for a mass audience, so many of the issues that many of us care about. This also seems like a great opportunity to reflect on this issue, why it's important, and how it connects to other issues of rurality. I recommend this article to anyone who needs a primer on why this issue is important but may be unfamiliar with the underlying issues.

There's a quote in the article that I cite frequently when I discuss this issue with people who are unfamiliar with why we should care about rural legal inequalities, "[a] hospital will not last long with no doctors, and a courthouse and judicial system with no lawyers faces the same grim future[.]" This quote from South Dakota chief justice David Gilbertson epitomizes why this issue is important and why we should continue to work until we have come up with a way to solve it. The ability to access justice is paramount for the survival of any community. When justice is inaccessible, the most vulnerable in our societies suffer the most and the bonds of cohesion that ties small towns together begin to weaken.

When trying to address the shortage, it is important to remember that this is also an incredibly complex issue that demands an interdisciplinary approach. The rural lawyer shortage is an outgrowth of many of the other issues affecting rural communities. To begin to study the issue, we need an understanding of:

  • The role of economic development in the growth of a regional legal market, which requires an understanding of economics. 
  • The general social structure of rural spaces, which requires an understanding of sociology. In fact, Thomas Barnett Jr., the Executive Director of the State Bar of South Dakota, noted in the linked article that rural lawyers serve not just in the official capacity as lawyers but, because of their status as lawyers, also serve other roles within rural communities. If you are going to understand the rural lawyer shortage, you need to understand the unique role that rural lawyers play in their communities.
  • That lawyers are also important political actors in rural communities so we need an understanding of political science. Even if a lawyer is not a politician, they still need to understand the local political dynamics in order to be change agents for their clients. In small towns, all politics are local. An organization could not just put a lawyer into a rural space without ensuring that they understand the local political dynamics and how to maximize their effectiveness.
  • The role of changing demographics in shaping America, particularly the affects of out-migration and the brain drain on making rural America older and less educated than other areas of the country. 
  • The law, particularly an understanding of the right to counsel in criminal cases and the disastrous effects of being pro bono in civil litigation

We have seen great progress on this issue over the past five years and other states have joined the call to address the rural lawyer shortage. I am currently working on a project that seeks to create greater awareness of this issue and work with public officials to address it. It was great re-reading this article, particularly because of its importance to my work and its role in bringing greater attention to this issue more broadly.

Monday, March 26, 2018

In 1954, John F. Kennedy talks about the relocation of textiles from New England to the South

As someone with a deep admiration for the Kennedy family and an interest in rural New England and the South, I was particularly interested in an article that I stumbled upon today in The Atlantic. In January of 1954, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote about the departure of textile mills from New England and their arrival in the South.

As Senator Kennedy notes, New England's loss of industry was largely due to the more lax labor standards in the South and the ability of the mills to get access to substantially cheaper labor. The lower influence of organized labor also served as a way to keep wages low in the South. North and South Carolina, two of the principal landing places of the textile industry regularly rank 49th and 50th in levels of union participation. This "race to the bottom" continues today with the spread of right to work legislation and the belief that unions are driving wages too high. New England, to its credit, has uniformly resisted "Right to Work."

Not surprisingly, the textile mills have largely left the Carolinas, largely due to cheaper labor in foreign markets. The parallels that one can draw from Senator Kennedy's descriptions of towns in New England that suffered the same fate is fairly obvious. Entire towns in North Carolina have lost their chief employer and are struggling to figure out how to replace that.

The lesson here is that if an industry chooses your community because of cheap labor, they will also leave when cheaper labor becomes available. I would hope that leaders in rural communities realize this sooner rather than later. I also highly encourage you to read Kennedy's article, it is an incredible snapshot in time of a rather huge economic shift in both New England and the Carolinas.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elite hypocrisy about working class white and rural women? The case of the West Virginia teachers strike

I've been reading elite bashing of working class and rural whites for years now, and I published my first article about it as long as 2011.  But the election of 2016 brought this bashing by the chattering classes to a fever pitch, and I've occasionally blogged about the phenomenon, as here and here.

One "series" I see on Twitter begins:  "And in today's episode of:  I Bet I Know Who You Voted For..." That is the common preface to re-Tweets of headlines that could previously have appeared in the "Darwin Awards" or perhaps the petty crime pages of a local paper.  I'm pasting one below.  It re-Tweets a Fox News Tweet that reads "Substitute allegedly brought boxed wine to school, vomited in class."

Another re-Tweets this Fox News Tweet:  "Woman charged with choking teen for blocking view at Disney fireworks show."

On a related note, here's an item from Instagram just a few days ago, from the account called guerrillafeminism that reads "happy international women's day except the 53% of white women who voted for trump."

Pat Bagley, the cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune (whose work I greatly admire, by the way), has referred to Trump's "idiot followers."

With that background, you can imagine my surprise--but also delight--when I saw this Tweet from Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as an
independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.
Despite the "nonpartisan" billing, I see it as clearly left leaning (a good thing in my book!).  Tanden's Tweet reads:
The teachers of West Virginia are heroes.  They deserve good pay and a real raise.  I stand with them.

Now, I don't recall any past Tweets by Tanden blasting Trump supporters, though I do recall some highly critical of Trump.  That's a line I've drawn myself--at least in the last year or so (I was a bit less discriminating--a bit more knee jerk--as I reeled in the wake of election of 2016)  I readily take aim at Trump but try to be more thoughtful and circumspect re: Trump supporters.  I'm looking to understand them, trying to listen empathically. (I've got a whole law review article forthcoming about female Trump supporters, delivered as the key note address at the Toledo Law Review symposium in October, 2017; hope to have the text posted soon on my page).

But the bottom line is that some things I saw on Twitter about the West Virginia teachers--many sympathetic comments of the sort Tanden shared--had me wondering if the lefties doing this Tweeting realized that many of the folks they were lauding and advocating for had no doubt voted for Trump.  That is, these newfound labor heroes with their wild-cat strike were one and the same with (many) reviled Trump voters.  Some 68% of West Virginians voted for Trump!  Could I possibly be seeing praise for these women--praise from the left?   These are the same women that many lefties on Twitter have said "get what they deserve" if they lose their healthcare (thanks to Trump's effort to dismantle Obamacare) or face further economic decline (thanks, for example, to the long-term consequences of Trump's tax reform law).

(Btw, I was at an Appalachian Justice symposium at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown from Thursday Feb. 22 'til Saturday Feb. 24th, and I got to see the picketing--and hear the honking in support--first-hand, which was pretty cool.  One of my favorite signs, this published in the Washington Post, is below )

Michelle Goldberg, a relatively new columnist at the New York Times who is writing a lot about gender issues, offered up this column under the headline, "The Teachers Revolt in West Virginia."  She called the strike "thrilling," noting that strikes by teachers are unlawful in West Virginia, which became a right-to-work state a few years ago, and where unions do not have collective bargaining rights. Yet, Goldberg writes,
teachers and some other school employees in all of the state’s 55 counties are refusing to return to work until lawmakers give them a 5 percent raise, and commit to addressing their rapidly rising health insurance premiums.
Goldberg further explains that the "obvious impetus" for action is West Virginia's awful pay of teachers, which ranks 48th in the nation (read more analysis here).  She also discusses the critical role that health care/health insurance plays in the labor dispute:
 In the past, solid health care benefits helped make up for low wages, but because West Virginia hasn’t been putting enough money into the state agency that insures public employees, premiums and co-payments have been increasing significantly.  
Ah, there's that health care problem again, by which I mean you should read this and this, among other sources cited and discussed in my forthcoming Toledo Law Review article.

Having pored over many, many mainstream media reports of white working class Trump supporters in places like Appalachia (you guess it, all in that article forthcoming in the Toledo Law Review), I was struck by the women Goldberg identified and interviewed who did not appear to be Trump supporters.  Quite to the contrary, these women are held out as having responded to Trump's election by becoming part of what is popularly known as "the resistance." I was delighted to learn about and hear from these women, but was Goldberg unable to find any Trump supporters among the striking teachers?  I would very much have liked to have heard their attitudes about the strike, also in relation to their support for Trump.  Did they reconcile the two?

Here are excerpts/quotes about the two women Goldberg did feature, Jenny Craig, a special education teacher from Triadelphia (population 811, northern panhandle) and Amanda Howard Garvin, an elementary art teacher in Morgantown:
Craig described the anti-Trump Women’s March, as well as the explosion of local political organizing that followed it, as a “catalyst” for at least some striking teachers. “You have women now taking leadership roles in unionizing, in standing up, in leading initiatives for fairness and equality and justice for everyone,” she said.
Garvin commented:
As a profession, we’re largely made up of women. ... There are a bunch of men sitting in an office right now telling us that we don’t deserve anything better. 
Oh how I LOVE that quote.  In the wake of Trump’s election, Garvin added, women are standing up to say: 
No. We’re equal here.
I sure hope Garvin is right that the sentiment and movement are as widespread as she suggests--and Goldberg implies.  If this is accurate, liberal elites--including feminists--will have to give Craig, Garvin and so many more like them their due.  (Indeed, teacher strikes may be in the works in the equally "red" states of Oklahoma and Kentucky, too).  That will challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes about folks from this region (read more here and here), which will in turn serve all of us quite well.  

You can find more exciting coverage of the West Virginia teachers strike herehere and here.  And don't miss this by WVU Law Professor and education law expert, Joshua Weishart.  

By the way, the strike succeeded, with the teachers getting what they held out for.  

The question that all of this leaves me with is this:  What can the WV teachers strike teach us about how to build and sustain cross-class coalitions, including among whites?  How can these intra-racial coalitions interface with cross-race coalitions for even stronger pacts among progressives? And what role will gender play in that coalition building?  

Other hopeful news of change in relation to women and the national political landscape is herehere and here.