Friday, May 26, 2017

Wall Street Journal: "Rural America Is the New 'Inner City'"

Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg report in today's Wall Street Journal under that very sobering headline.  Further, here's the most sobering excerpt from the story (in bold below), IMHO, in some historical perspective:  
For more than a century, rural towns sustained themselves, and often thrived, through a mix of agriculture and light manufacturing. Until recently, programs funded by counties and townships, combined with the charitable efforts of churches and community groups, provided a viable social safety net in lean times.

Starting in the 1980s, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas—where a toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.

Today, however, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that by many key measures of socioeconomic well-being, those charts have flipped. In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas). 
In fact, the total rural population—accounting for births, deaths and migration—has declined for five straight years.
The story quotes--well, paraphrases--me:
Although federal and state antipoverty programs were not limited to urban areas, they often failed to address the realities of the rural poor. The 1996 welfare overhaul put more city dwellers back to work, for example, but didn’t take into account the lack of public transportation and child care that made it difficult for people in small towns to hold down jobs, said Lisa Pruitt, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law.
To some extent, I'm referring to my 2007 article on how welfare reform was not a good fit for rural America because of poor transportation infrastructure and lack of child care, in addition to limited labor markets that leave few places for would-be welfare recipients to "work" (or even volunteer) to earn their TANF.

On the decline of the family (high divorce rates) in rural America, see this report from the NY Times in 2011.  

One other quote/nugget I gave journalist Adamy that she didn't use:  there has always been a rural underclass (think in terms of those widely thought of as "white trash"), and in this era of downward mobility, that underclass has drawn many more victims (a term I use advisedly) into its net.

And if you are not feeling empathetic and think it's those rural folks' own darn fault, consider this question:   How do you think you would fare if what you were facing were downward prospects for yourself and your children, less than you or your parents had?  It's not a situation most liberal/coastal elites face, and we have a hard time empathizing.  Indeed, we have a hard time responding with anything other than disdain.

(This story by Terrence McCoy in the Washington Post is something of a post-script to this WSJ story, coming one week after the latter and focusing on disability benefits).

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