Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Why the left isn't talking about rural American poverty"

That is the headline for a story that appeared last week on In These Times Rural America Blog.  Here's the lede:  
Within the popular American conscience—arguably a close reflection of the mainstream media—there are two favored focal points for discussing the problem of poverty. The first is within the urban, inner city context—often conflated with black poverty—which has held a critical role in American political and cultural discourse throughout most of the past century. The second is the poverty of the Global South: Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the rest of the developing world. 
What seldom gets talked about—and when it is, often with irreverent humor and contempt—is the poverty of rural America, particularly rural white America: Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta, the Dakotas, the Rio Grande Valley, the Cotton Belt.
I am quoted in the piece, including this: 
We tend to associate rural poverty with whiteness…When we think about rural poverty, most associations with rural poverty are with white populations and in fact, that is true to some extent but it’s actually far from being monochromatic.
* * *
For better or worse, when we talk about poverty, we focus on black poverty, and we focus on Hispanic poverty. We’ve collapsed our nation’s poverty problem into our nation’s racism problem, and it leads us to turn a blind eye to rural poverty.
Gurley also quotes me where she says that some dismiss white poverty under the implicit belief “that when whites live in poverty, it is their fault, or even their choice.”

Then, yesterday, this piece appeared on NonProfit Quarterly, "Some Reasons Behind Societal Neglect of Rural Poverty--and Rural America," by Rick Cohen.  Cohen contrasts our national neglect of rural poverty with the excitement often generated by urban issues.  He writes:  
Generally progressive political observers and analysts such as Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution have long placed an emphasis on urban over rural.
* * *

[T]here is little question that the stories about revitalizing urban areas have captured the imagination of politicians and of philanthropists. The concept articulated in Katz’s WSJ article is not hugely different from Katz’s earlier expression of the concept of “MetroNations,” which looked at investments in the 100 largest metropolitan areas as the key drivers for investment for national economic progress and sustainability. 
N.B.  Katz has, in his advocacy for urban investment, occasionally been openly harsh and dismissive of rural America.  He was the co-author of a 2008 piece titled, "Village Idiocy:  Enough with Small-Town Triumphalism," in the New Republic.  

I especially like Cohen's closing thoughts because they take up the rural-urban philanthropy gap:
Gurley and her sources are probably correct that much of the liberal/left has written off rural poverty as a concern. To assert that philanthropy isn’t immune from that anti-rural bias isn’t to point out a moral shortcoming among foundation leaders. But foundations, unlike presidential candidates, can make choices that are not tied to the ballot box. They can think deeply about issues and support strategies meant to be fair and equitable for people in need, in both rural and urban areas, regardless of the attitudes rural Americans might carry into the voting booth. Reducing societal inequity cannot happen by writing off rural Americans.

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