Thursday, December 3, 2009

New study finds greater than expected rural prosperity, mostly in the Plains and Midwest ran this story yesterday under the headline, "Rural America Surprisingly Prosperous, Study Finds." The study, by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign economist, is based on 2000 data. It (or at least the yahoo news report of it) proclaims good news for rural America based on a finding that one in five rural counties is more prosperous than the nation as a whole. But I have a hard time getting excited about that 20% figure. That sounds more like bad news than good news for rural America. Furthermore, the degree of "prosperity"--or lack thereof--varies dramatically by region. The rate of prosperous rural counties was much higher in the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and "parts of six states surrounding them" were mentioned) than in the South and Southwest. In those latter regions, just one in 20 rural counties--a mere 5%--are more prosperous than the national average.

The University of Illinois study assessed "unemployment rates, poverty rates, high school drop-out rates, and housing conditions" as measures of "prospering communities." These metrics differ from the growth-oriented measures often used to assess prosperity. The study found that "[p]rosperous rural counties have more off-farm jobs, more educated populations, and less income inequality than other rural counties." According to the Yahoo report, some overlap does exist between prosperity and economic growth. Prosperous counties tend to have slow population growth, as opposed to the higher population growth rates associated with less affluent rural counties.

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