Monday, September 19, 2016

How rural America fared economically in 2015

A few days ago, media were abuzz with the good news of the 2015 economic data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13.  In short, the United States saw one of the steepest ever one-year drops in the U.S. poverty rates. The new data indicated that more low- and middle-income folks were seeing wage rises.  Read more here.

Yet initial reports indicated that the recovery was uneven:  while incomes in metropolitan areas grew 6%, those in nonmetro areas fell 2%.

One follow-up story that illustrated this unevenness, was by Binyamin Appelbaum, Patricia Cohen and Jack Healy in the NY Times under the headline "A Rebounding Economy Remains Fragile for Many."  Among others, they quote Ralph Kingan, mayor of Wright, Wyoming, in the state's coal-rich Powder River Basin:
We ain’t feeling too much of all that economic growth that I heard was going on, patting themselves on the back. It ain’t out in the West.
Coal mines there have laid off many workers in the wake of bankruptcies.  The story features rich vignettes and quotes out of Kentucky, too, linking the economic conditions these places to the current presidential campaign.

Shortly after these reports, however, the New York Times Upshot ran this headline on September 16, "Actually, Income in Rural America is Growing, Too."  In it, Quoctrung Bui explains that a change in the definition of "rural" accounts for the initial confusion over how folks in the hinterlands fared.  I would include an excerpt, but the explanation is not amenable to brevity, so you'll have to read Bui's story for yourself.  Bottom line:  "Median household incomes in rural America actually grew 3.4 percent in 2015."

1 comment:

Orchid64 said...

I think the statistics are misleading. I think part of the reason for the increase is migration of those who can no longer afford to live in urban centers to rural areas - something which I see more and more as refugees from the Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento head for rural California. They can make a living in many cases working by distance, or filling government jobs that local folks are unqualified to do because they lack educational opportunities. I think that, for people who have lived in rural settings for generations, income is either not improving, or only doing so in a negligible fashion. I'd like more distinct data, but I'm betting the truth is that this is more about movement geographically than economically.