Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rural-urban conflict over USDA policy?

Read Susan Schneider's post over at Ag Law Blog re: Senators McCain, Chambliss, and Roberts, who are challenging the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) program. Among other issues Prof. Schneider raises: is it helpful to analyze this USDA policy in a way that pits rural and urban against each other? Also, so little of USDA's budget goes to rural development (as opposed to farm subsidies--that is subsidies to agribusiness, not to small farmers), it seems that the Republican senators are posturing, and don't actually know much about the topic of their letter to Secretary Vilsack about KYF....

On a somewhat related note, don't miss this from today's Wall Street Journal on who is really a farmer at the farmer's market.

Rural poor gain political clout in India

I have noted this in past posts, but it is again mentioned in a story in today's New York Times about Indian politics.

Jim Yardley's story is headlined "For India's Ruling Party, Challenge is Governing," and he indicates that the Congress Party's "focus on the rural poor has proved good politics" as the party's majority in the lower house of Parliament has grown steadily since Sonia Gandhi became President of the party in 1998. The rural poor have also seen some payback (appropriately enough!) for their loyalty. An excerpt from Yardley's story explains:

From the outset, Congress Party leaders have tempered any expectations of major economic reforms in insurance, banking and labor laws coveted by business interests.

Instead, they have focused on a social reform agenda championed by the party’s president, Sonia Gandhi, who has personally intervened to push legislation to give monthly allotments of rice or grain to hundreds of millions of the country’s poor. Analysts say rebuilding the social safety net trumps any effort at major economic reforms.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rural Montana site of respite for adoptees

Read Kirk Johnson's story from today's New York Times. The dateline is Eureka, Montana, population 1,017, close to the Canadian border in Lincoln County, population 18,837. Johnson's story features Joyce Sterkel's ranch, where hundreds of adopted children, mostly from Russia, have come to "perhaps find healing grace with the horses and cows and rolling fields."

Here's an excerpt that criticizes Sterkel's approach to dealing with these troubled children, challenging the power of this natural setting to deal with profound physiological and psychological problems facing many of these children:
Ranch for Kids now has 30 children, ages 5 to 17, some of whom stay for a month or two, some for years. Critics say the ranch, and places like it that focus on experience as therapy — exposure to nature, animals and rules of ranch life — are islands of unreality that do not fundamentally address a child’s problems.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LII): Middleton charged with various thefts following exhaustive search

I wrote a few weeks ago on a massive search that law enforcement officers were executing on the property of the Middleton brothers, recently very much in the news because of various criminal exploits. Read more here and here. The April 15, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times reports in detail on what was found during the search and the charges that have resulted. Ricky Middleton is charged with theft by receiving, two counts of altering or changing engine or other numbers, and possession of a vehicle without manufacturers numbers, a misdemeanor. The story provides extensive details of vehicles found during the search, several with altered VIN numbers. It also reports on the recovery of a bag of vehicle titles, along with VCRs, car stereos, camera equipment, and power tools. Trial on these new charges has been set for August 6. The story indicates that the search warrant that led to recovery of the vehicles and other equipment that may have been stolen was based on information that David Middleton was using Ricky Middleton's property to store and sell methamphetamines. The story does not report on the recovery of any drugs during the March 2010 search.

In other community news, a story headlined "Breast Screening coming to Newton County," reports on free mobile mammogram services that will be provided for one day at the Newton County Health Unit.

The newspaper recently began a series called "52 reasons we love Newton County," and this week's feature is "No. 46: Historic churches of Jasper," which includes a photo of the Jasper Christian Church, built in 1887.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Obama at Upper Big Branch memorial service

On Sunday, President Barak Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial service for the 29 victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster earlier this month. Here's an excerpt from his eulogy, as printed in the New York Times.
How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work? By simply pursuing the American dream?

We cannot bring back the 29 men we lost. They are with the Lord now. Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy. To do what we must do, individually and collectively, to assure safe conditions underground. To treat our miners like they treat each other — like a family. Because we are all family and we are all Americans and we have to lean on one another.

Elsewhere in his story, journalist Peter Baker noted Obama's uneasy relationship with West Virginians, where he lost in both the Democratic primary and in the general election in 2008.

It is a place that views his environmental agenda with suspicion for the damage it fears could be done to industry and livelihoods.

But for this day, at least, he was their president and their chief comforter, and they greeted him with loud applause and cheers. He met first behind closed doors with the families of the 29 fallen miners before the service started, making his way from one folding table to another across a low-ceilinged room amid a cacophony of wrenching sobbing by the relatives. “It was like 29 funerals in one small church basement,” Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said afterward.

Obama is often touted as a metrocentric and particularly cosmopolitan president, which makes me especially glad that he appeared at this event and evinced a common touch.

Baker's report is also worth a read for its several rich descriptions of rural community.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A tale of survival in rural Vermont

Katie Zezima reports in today's New York Times from Putney, Vermont, population 2,634 in the southern part of the state. That's where a general store burned to the ground in May, 2008, only to see arson bring down its replacement in November, 2009. Here's an excerpt from Zezima's story that highlights the significance of this institution to Putney, which she describes as "bucolic." As for the store, she says it was more than a place to buy a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread:
For more than 200 years it had literally and figuratively been the town center, where people learned when babies were born and debated town issues while perusing the shelves or buying a hammer.
* * *
In less than six months, the Putney Historical Society has raised more than $800,000 through numerous state and federal grants, Internet donations, bake sales, concerts, corporate funds and unsolicited contributions to help rebuild the store.

The store’s post-and-beam foundation, which will be constructed from donated local trees, is on schedule to be raised in July, and residents hope the store will reopen in December with fanfare and a party unlike Putney has seen.

In fact, Zezima's story features many rural myths in addition to that of community, which doesn't mean--of course--that they have no factual basis. Still, she sounds like a reporter on a mission, and many of the local townsfolk have contributed to it with their quotes . . . read more here.

Thai tensions across the rural-urban axis

Several reports on recent tensions in Thailand mention that the rebel red shirts who are rising up against the government tend to represent rural populations. (Read more here). Yesterday's New York Times story by Thomas Fuller and Seth Mydans featured these paragraphs in a story headlined "Deadly Grenade Explosions in Bangkok Threaten to Ignite Wider Protests."

The conflict has its roots in social divisions between the mostly poor and rural red shirts and an urban middle class that has not been active on the streets until about a week ago.

The antagonism between them was displayed by a pro-government protester who made a rude gesture toward the red shirts on Thursday as she stood in front of a misspelled placard in English reading “Uneducate people.”

See a related slide show here.

I find myself wanting to know more, and I wonder if this is the sort of simmering conflict between urban "haves" and rural "have-nots" that Amy Chua wrote about/predicted in World on Fire. Chua notes in her book that Thailand defies the Asian trend toward a powerful ethnic minority--typically the Chinese. Still, disparities across the rural-urban axis may be feeding the rural discontent.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Housing shortage linked to economic boom in North Dakota

This front-page story in yesterday's New York Times features the dateline Williston, North Dakota, population 12,512. The headline is "A State with Jobs but Few Places to Live." It tells of an oil boom economy that has burgeoned so quickly that housing hasn't kept up. An excerpt follows:

The same forces that have resulted in more homelessness elsewhere — unemployment, foreclosure, economic misery — have pushed laid off workers from California, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming to abundant jobs here, especially in the booming oil fields.

But in this city rising from the long empty stretches of North Dakota, hundreds are sleeping in their cars or living in motel rooms, pup tents and tiny campers meant for weekend getaways in warmer climes. They are staying on cots in offices and in sleeping bags in the concrete basements of people they barely know.

Monica Davey notes that North Dakota never slipped into recession, unlike most of the rest of the nation. This reminds me of a recent report about another (largely rural) state that has apparently weathered the recession reasonably well--in part because there was no real bubble to burst: Arkansas. Listen to the marketplace story here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Urbanites and suburbanites becoming small-scale farmers

A story in today's Sacramento Bee suggests that most of the young adults flocking to organic and small-scale farming are from urban and suburban areas, not from rural places. Carlos Alcala reports from Somerset in El Dorado County, California, population 175,382. (Somerset is not even a Census Designated Place.) Here's the lede for the story, headlined "Future farmers transplanted from cities, suburbs":

The refrain about young people and agriculture used to be, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm?"

City attractions were deemed too strong for the simple life to compete for the attention of young rural adults.

That longtime story is reversing.

Cities and suburbs now supply young recruits to agriculture, primarily to small and organic farms, and the trend is playing out in El Dorado County.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Restriction on hiring doctors hurts rural hospitals

The headline in today's Sacramento Bee is "Rural areas push to end ban on hiring doctors," and the story by Bobby Caina Calvan reports on the difficulties rural communities have in attracting adequate health care professionals. One of the challenges in California is a law that prohibits hospitals from hiring doctors directly. This means that physicians are reluctant to move to rural areas, where they are less likely to earn a sufficient income from private practice.

The story's dateline is Jackson, population 3,989, in Amador County (population 38,343), and Calvan relies heavily on the situation of Dr. Bob Hartmann, a local physician who is also Amador County's public health official.

"There's no guarantee of income," said Hartmann, 60, who makes house calls in a lime-colored Volkswagen Beetle. "Physicians in rural areas make significantly less money than doctors in the urban areas."

The county's only hospital, Sutter Amador in Jackson, has struggled to expand services because there aren't the necessary doctors, surgeons and other specialists around.

The hospital's chief executive officer would like to do more to attract physicians to the foothills, but California is one of five states that forbid private hospitals from directly hiring their own doctors.

The law may soon, change, however, as Calvan explains:

Pushed by the California Hospital Association, the Legislature is about to revive discussion on whether the law should be changed.

Assembly Bill 646, which would allow publicly run hospital districts to hire doctors, is before the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.

Companion legislation, Assembly Bill 648, would establish a pilot program allowing rural hospitals to directly employ physicians. The measure is expected to be scheduled for a hearing soon.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hidden in plain sight

That's a theme of quite a bit of my writing about rural poverty (such as here, here and here), and Erik Eckholm reports in today's New York Times on another manifestation of it. In "Albuquerque Journal: On a Dusty Mesa, No Water or Electricity, but Boundless Space," he writes of the Parajito Mesa, outside Albuquerque, where more than 400 families live off the grid in an area never licensed for housing. Whether the area is properly labeled "rural" or not is debatable; the Parajito Mesa is within metropolitan Bernalillo County, population 626,991. But, many aspects of how the area's residents live are suggestive of rural places, including the dirt roads, keeping of animals, informal order, and neighbors' interdependence on one another.

Eckholm further describes the Parajito Mesa's proximity to the state's capital, the 34th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.:
Here is a maze of unnamed dirt roads, with nary a grocery store or barbershop in sight. Adding to the sense of dislocation, Albuquerque’s skyline shimmers, Oz-like, on the horizon, a half-hour’s drive away.
He also notes that the vast majority of Parajito Mesa residents are Latino, and many are undocumented. Scattered over 28 square miles, they are not only lacking electricity, water and improved sanitation, they also have no streets, no mail delivery. But, Eckholm points out, "they are not squatters: residents buy or rent their plots, and the owners pay property taxes, one of the many oddities of a community that is isolated in plain sight." He also describes a coming improvement:
Access to water and electricity has been stymied by a legal mess and a lack of political power in the largely nonvoting community.

* * *

In a small step forward, this month the mesa will finally get its first water supply — a metered spigot at a single site where people can fill their barrels, instead of having to drive anywhere from 10 to 18 miles. Getting even this much took 10 years of organizing residents and pestering state and county officials, a campaign led by Sandra Montes, a former housewife who moved to the mesa in 1997 “without realizing how hard it was going to be,” she said.
This all reminds me of the excellent work of Michelle Wilde Anderson, who has written about exclusion from city services of those on the urban fringe. You can read some of her work here and here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LIII): Crime wave in Jasper

One of the front-page headlines on the March 25 issue of the Newton County Times is "Police working more cases," and it reports that the police department in Jasper, population 498, and the county seat of Newton County, "is seeing an increasing number of criminal complaints being filed." The reporter stops short of characterizing it as a "crime wave," but notes that the Jasper Police Department, which recently expanded to two officers, has 21 cases on its books for 2010, whereas the department worked only 17 "official cases" in all of 2009. The story notes: "What is alarming is that most of the calls this year are drug-related, breaking and entering, and theft." According the county sheriff, this activity with the "city" police means fewer calls to the sheriff's office from Jasper.

Pete DeChant, the Jasper Police Chief, notes that he "believes in community policing. That is, it is important that the public has a trusting relationship with the police department. 'The residents are able to voice their issues and concerns. They point out areas in Jasper that do need attention. And the community is participating more and more and we are getting valuable information.'"

The story goes on to report that 2010 crimes have included three residential breaking and entering situations; two of the homes were unoccupied. Also, both the Jasper Conoco station and the Family Dollar Store were burglarized, the latter by "well-equipped pros" who used the same modus operandi as that used in a Family Dollar Store burglary in Clarksville.

Finally, DeChant reports his awareness of a "growing problem with the illegal sale of prescription drugs. People are coming to Jasper and selling them. the best way to keep them out is to have a visible police presence in the town."

The Department may benefit from a Rural Development grant the city is seeking for improvements to City Hall, as well as for cameras for police cars and a speed monitor.

In other news, other front page headlines report:
  • Deer man gets 36 years for thefts. This story tells of a 32-year-old Deer man whom authorities called a "one-man crime wave" who pleaded guilty to theft, criminal mischief, and fleeing charges."
  • Council sets tobacco policy at park. This story reports on the City Council's decision to "establish a public policy on the use of tobacco at the city's Bradley Park. The policy does not ban tobacco from the park, but signs will be posted requesting that no smoking be observed near children's play areas, and signs will direct smokers to areas where cigarette filter receptacles will be conveniently located. The goal is to make the park's environment safer and more friendly for all of its visitors." Interestingly, the county's share of Arkansas's "master settlement agreement" with tobacco companies funded the Tobacco Education Group, made up largely of high school students, who proposed these limitations to the City Council. The continuation of the story inside the paper uses this headline: "Park: Issue one of litter, not smoking, speakers said."
  • Local history learned at Boxley school. This story, accompanied by two photos of Boxley residents, tells of a benefit held to "raise money to repair and spruce up the over 100-year-old building once used as a church and schoolhouse." It is one of the most photographed buildings in Arkansas.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflecting on the Upper Big Branch mining disaster

Ten days after news broke of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, I still find myself somewhat preoccupied with what happened (read here and here), how it happened, and to whom it happened (read here and here). Given that so many mining-dependent communities and economies are rural, I am angry about government's failure (read more here and here) to better protect a largely invisible constituency, who are also relatively powerless--and who happen to be mostly rural. The map pasted here, from the USDA Economic Research Service, shows nonmetropolitan counties with mining-dependent economies in brown and metropolitan counties with mining-dependent economies in black.
I am thinking about the desperation--yes, desperation--that people in these rural communities experience for good jobs. (Read more here). And even with all of the dangers mining presented, these jobs with Massey Energy were "good jobs," and many employees remain loyal to Massey.

I was somewhat heartened today to hear this from President Obama as he ordered enhanced mine safety inspections:
There’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine — a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
Read more here.

And I was annoyed all over again at Don Blankenship, Massey's CEO, when he called President Obama's remarks "regrettable." I fail to see anything in the least regrettable about them. Indeed, they are entirely appropriate.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rural consequences of Wal-Mart's move into India

Vikas Bajaj reports in today's New York Times on Wal-Mart's move into India, a story that includes descriptions of the nation's agricultural sector, as well as the way in which Wal-Mart is changing it, if only a bit at a time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LII): Two arrested in burglary of pharmacy

The April 1, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times features one front-page crime story, "Two arrests in Jasper pharmacy break-in." It tells of a March 21 break-in at the only pharmacy in Jasper, the county seat (and I believe the only one in the county), in which 120 bottles of prescription drugs (about 18,000 pills total) were taken, along with three flat-screen monitors.

"Investigations and interviews", the story opaquely reports, "led to charges being filed against two Newton County men," according to Jasper Police Chief Pete De Chant. The two men, one age 22 and the other age 26, were arraigned in circuit court on March 26, which indicates that their arrests came shortly after the burglary. They were charged with commercial burglary and theft of property, and bond was set at $3500.

The paper provides no follow up on recent searches of Middleton property, initially reported here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Progress in the Indian state of Bihar, but does it extend to the villages?

Lydia Polgreen reports in today's New York Times about the state of Bihar, in northeastern India, a perennial backwater that has recently posted exceptionally strong economic growth. The story makes clear that agriculture has long been an important part of the economy of Bihar, though flooding and drought have plagued the region. Even as the story celebrates regional progress, it makes clear that challenges remain--especially in rural parts of the state. An excerpt follows:
This progress, and its limitations, is clearly on display in the villages of rural Bihar. Reaching the village of Pawna from the district capital, Ara, once took more than two hours, but today it is a 30-minute drive. Solar lights illuminate narrow lanes. The street market that used to shut promptly at sundown because of bandits now bustles late into the evening. The village has a new police station, more schools and new water pumps.

But Gulab Chand Ram, a landless Dalit farmer in Pawna, said the government had done little to tackle the problems of the very poorest, those with nowhere to go on the new roads and nothing to steal.

“It is paper talk,” he said of the reforms. “We farmers still lack land, we lack water.”

More evidence of regulatory failures of mining

This story in Sunday's New York Times characterizes the Mine Safety and Health Administration as a "meek watchdog." In fact, the details in the report suggest that the MSHA is so powerless that it can hardly be other than "meek," though it also suggests that the agency fails to use some of the powers it does have--such as those to close mines it deems unsafe and to close repeat offenders. Here are some excerpts that compare MSHA's powers to those of other administrative agencies.

The fines it levies are relatively small, and many go uncollected for years. It lacks subpoena power, a basic investigatory tool. Its investigators are not technically law enforcement officers, like those at other agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

And its criminal sanctions are weak, a result of compromises over the 1977 Mine Act that created the agency. Falsifying records is a felony, for example, while deliberate violations of safety standards that lead to deaths are misdemeanors.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another West Virginia mine disaster--evidence of a federal regulatory failure?

Twenty-five miners are dead in Montcoal, West Virginia. Read a report by Ian Urbina and Michael Cooper here.

The story notes numerous safety issues with the Upper Big Branch mine, as well as others owned by Massey Energy.
The Massey Energy Company, the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia and the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, has drawn sharp scrutiny and fines from regulators over its safety and environmental record. Several of its violations have been for improperly ventilating methane.

In 2008, one of its subsidiaries paid what federal prosecutors called the largest settlement in the history of the coal industry after pleading guilty to safety violations that contributed to the deaths of two miners in a fire in one of its mines. That year, Massey also paid a $20 million fine — the largest of its kind levied by the Environmental Protection Agency — for clean water violations.

It then includes this rather unfortunate quote from Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship:
“Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. There are violations at every coal mine in America, and [Upper Big Branch] was a mine that had violations. I think the fact that M.S.H.A., the state and our fire bosses and the best engineers that you can find were all in and around this mine, and all believed it to be safe in the circumstances it was in, speaks for itself as far as any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated.”
Montcoal is in Raleigh County, population 79,024. Montcoal is not even a Census Designated Place and so the Census Bureau provides no population estimate for it. It lies south of Charleston, West Virginia.

Massey Energy has been mentioned in a number of prior posts, mostly those involving its effort to influence West Virginia judicial elections. Read them here and here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Killing of rancher in Southeast Arizona jars community

The killing of a rancher in southeast Arizona's Cochise County last week has shaken the region and the rancher's far-flung neighbors. Randal Archibold reports in today's New York Times that the killer is believed to have been an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. The body of the rancher, Robert Krentz, Jr., 58, was found in his all-terrain vehicle, with a trail of blood leading from there toward the border, some 20 miles away. Krentz's dog had been shot and critically wounded, but the rancher's guns were left untouched. Shortly before Krentz went missing, he made radio contact with his brother, reporting that he was assisting someone he believed to be an "illegal immigrant."

The story mentions some of the challenges to law enforcement officers--including border patrol--in this sparsely populated area. If the killing was drug related--and the story suggests it is--it is the first such death in more than three decades.

An excerpt from Archibold's story follows:

“You never know who you’re dealing with out here because you get all kinds of traffic through here,” said William McDonald, a fellow rancher on the vast mesquite scrubland pocked with canyons and scattered mountain ranges floating on the horizon like islands.

Mr. McDonald and other residents said that in the last year or two the traffic had taken a more sinister turn, with larger numbers of drug smugglers, many clad in black and led by armed scouts.

“It was only a matter of time,” he said. “Everything was in place for something like this to happen.”

Krentz's family issued this statement, which also alludes to law enforcement issues:
We hold no malice towards the Mexican people for this senseless act but do hold the political forces in this country and Mexico accountable for what has happened. Their disregard of our repeated pleas and warnings of impending violence towards our community fell on deaf ears shrouded in political correctness. As a result, we have paid the ultimate price for their negligence in credibly securing our borderlands.
The dateline for the story is Douglas, Arizona, population 14,312 and a border town. While the population of Cochise County is 127,882, it was classified as nonmetropolitan after the last Census because the largest city, Sierra Vista, has a population of fewer than 50,000. The county seat, Bisbee, has a population of just more than 6,000.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Nation's last sardine plant, in rural Maine, closes

Katharine Seelye reports in today's New York Times, dateline Prospect, Maine, population 642, on the closure of a Bumble Bee Foods sardine plant. They "why" of the closure has to do with "global competition, corporate consolidations and a general lack of appetite, at least in the United States, for sardines, despite their nutritional value and attempts by chefs to give them an image makeover." Bumble Bee also attributes it to federal regulations which limit harvests of Atlantic herring. The plant is by far the largest employer in the area, and this excerpt provides economic context for the its closure:
When its doors close, 128 people will lose their jobs, and the ripple will be felt throughout the local economy. Unemployment in Hancock County, where the plant is located, was above 12 percent in January, already higher than the state average.
The story features some rich quotes from the plant's long time employees, including several women and an operator of a large pressure cooking machine. Women dominate the packing process, earning up to $18 or $19/hour when paid for piece work.

Friday, April 2, 2010

From "inventor" of the PC to country doctor

Read the story of Dr. H. Edward Roberts, who recently died, here. He was an early mentor to Bill Gates, but spent the latter years of his life working as a physician in Cochran, Georgia, population 4,455.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's Census Day: What does that mean for rural America?

Well, the New York Times features two stories that help to answer that question. One by Monica Davey features the dateline, Wolford, North Dakota (population 50), and the other, by Shaila Dewan, features the dateline Mayersville, Mississippi (population 795). Davey's story is headlined, "Few to Count, but All Eager to Get it Done," and she quotes the mayor of tiny Wolford as saying that the town's population has surely dropped in the past decade into the 40s. Davey apparently chose to feature Wolford in particular because it is one of a few towns in the U.S.--all of them in the midwest and all tiny--where every household has already returned its Census form. In spite of the material consequences of the Census count (the distribution of billions of dollars of federal funding is at stake), Davey suggests small town North Dakotans like those in Wolford are motivated by more than self interest:

Still, in this state of about 650,000 people (and no dream of somehow getting a second United States representative) and in towns like this one of just 50 (probably just 40-something by now, the mayor says), the extreme participation in the census may have less to do with a wishing for more federal money than with a certain sensibility.

“Why wouldn’t you send it right back?” asked Jim Wolf, who has been mayor here so long that he cannot recall what year he took office. “It’s a rural community,” said Mr. Wolf, who is also the volunteer fire squad chief, “and I guess we go by the rules.”

The story features several photos and characterizations that highlight aspects of small-town life, including lack of anonymity (everyone in town already knows who the oldest resident is, and who the youngest is). Some features of rural life relate to the high response rate to the Census. For example, Census officials have observed that residential stability is a good indicator of who will return their Census form. Most residents of Wolford grew up there. A University of North Dakota rural sociologist is quoted as noting the "high degree of trust in our elected officials."

Along with North Dakota, other states with high rates of return are South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Dewan's story about rural Mississippi provides a nice contrast with Davey's tale from North Dakota. Indeed, it illustrates well the old adage, "If you've seen one rural place, you've seen one rural place." As in the rest of the Delta, poverty and illiteracy plague Issaquena County, population 2,274. So, apparently, does distrust of the government. Dewan writes:

People mistrust census takers for a variety of reasons, including a belief that the government is trying to catch them doing something illegal like misrepresenting the number of people in their household, which could affect benefits like food stamps, said Calvin Stewart, a Rolling Fork alderman, teacher, high school sports referee and spokesman for the town’s new antilitter campaign.

* * *

Issaquena County "contained some of the most challenging and undercounted census tracts in the state" in the 2000 Census, and as of today, the "target date to return census forms ... Issaquena was still lagging — only 21 percent of households had returned their forms, compared with 52 percent nationally, according to the running tally on the census Web site, although in many cases the forms have been hand-delivered to people’s homes by census workers.
The planned solution: a continuing public education effort to let residents know what is at stake ($400 billion, give or take a few), and a lot of door-to-door coverage by Census workers.