Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rural America and the stigma of government help

While rising foreclosure rates are not a new, cutting-edge topic, some of the implications of foreclosures in rural areas are rather surprising. The Reuter’s website recently featured an article discussing rising foreclosure filings in rural Ohio. Foreclosure filings rose 4.9 percent in counties with a population fewer than 50,000 people, while filings only rose 1.2 percent in Ohio overall. The vast number of filings are to be expected given high unemployment rates and a lack of affordable healthcare. In fact, hard times are upon a great deal of Americans. Whether unemployment, the housing crisis, or the plunging stock market is to blame, virtually all Americans have felt the brunt of our poor economy.

Most surprising is the resistance rural Americans experience with regards to seeking help in the form of government programs. One citizen of the rural town of Zanesville, Ohio stated, “It’s not easy to get people in a conservative, religious area like this to accept help.” Rural Americans who embrace conservative values tend to disfavor government programs and help in general. As a result, many are opposed to taking advantage of Barack Obama’s housing rescue plan. The 75 billion dollar program is designed to help as many as 9 million American homeowners rework mortgages into more affordable monthly payments.

On another note, rising foreclosure rates are merely a symptom of astronomical medical bills accrued by those lacking sufficient healthcare. Thus, rural Americans are opposed to “help” on two fronts because rural areas also tend to vehemently oppose universal healthcare.

The article specifically discusses the plight of homeowners Ruth and Ronald Swope, both 69, who are now facing foreclosure. A lack of affordable healthcare and rising age-related health problems have led to the Swopes’ pending foreclosure. Ronald states, “I have always paid my own way. I’ve never asked anyone for anything my whole life. But we had no choice.”

What is at the core of the stigma attached to accepting help? Are rural Americans just plain ignorant? In my opinion, the answer is no. Rural Americans have legitimate fears associated with government programs and help, in general.

The stigma of such programs is partially due to a tendency for conservatives to disfavor democratic programs. Many elderly rural Americans experienced the Red Scare and fear these programs are just the beginning of communism and socialism on their home turf.

Another answer is the lack of anonymity in rural areas. In urban areas, financial decisions can be more anonymous. But when everyone knows everyone, taking advantage of a program and expressing the need for help is not simply a personal decision but, instead, is practically local news. Brittany Oglesby, a single mother living in rural Highland County in Ohio, expressed this concern when she stated, “I was afraid to say anything because everyone around here knows everybody's business,” she said. “But I later found out people understand because so many of us are in the same boat.”

Ms. Oglesby’s statement leads me to consider whether the answer is as simple as a fear of diversity. Could it be that rural people value a preservation of homogeny over their own livelihoods?

Regardless of the reason for the resistance to government programs, many are just beginning to push their fears aside and take advantage of programs. Thus, one trait of rural America is preserved: the tendency of rural people to persevere in the face of adversity.


Anonymous said...

However, it has been stated before and I wish I could remember where that the rural poor have stopped voting for their economic welfare decades ago, really since the ascendancy of the Dixie-crats. Their plight has been so bad for so long under whatever party has been in the executive they have given up and simply vote for the candidate who best reflects their social values, almost always conservative. With Universal Healthcare such a boon to the rural poor, how is this nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to this being a democratic President?

Anonymous said...

It's not as simple as that. When you consider that government legislation has led to massive loss of jobs in rural areas (farming, mining, logging), those in rural areas have little cause to think that the government means them well. This has been going on for a long time. In addition, it's also clear that in many states, school funding favors the wealthier urban schools, not the rural ones. The rural people should trust the government when it says it wants to better their schools--why?

It's a natural reaction to being hurt over and over again by the same source--"the government." And if not that, then "the city folk" who vote in the legislation that harms the rural people and not the urban.

Slice of Pink said...

Another interesting part of the Reuters article, I thought, was the point made by Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. He observed that the rural housing crisis is related to the economy, while the urban housing crisis is related to loose lending practices and people using their homes as cash machines.

My question: does this fact impact rural residents' ability to qualify for mortgage restructuring programs?