Wednesday, January 26, 2022

More on travel--and rural women--as abortion rights come under threat

Daily Yonder commentary published yesterday is here, and NPR told this compelling story out of Idaho today.  The latter implicated travel from Twin Falls to Meridian (near Boise), not truly rural places, but plenty of distance covered nevertheless.  The NPR story also touched on issues of poverty and homelessness, and the fact the woman seeking an abortion already had a child and feared she could not care for another.  Women who already have a child(ren) and are financially precarious are most common among those seeking abortion in the United States.  

My academic work on rural women and the right to abortion is here, here, and hereThis post from early December sums up my thinking on the current attention--even panic--about distance and travel.  I'm not saying the attention and panic aren't justified, but it sure was hard before this current moment to get as much attention as I believe was merited about the burden of travel and distance.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Rural residents struggling with pharmacy closures

National Public Radio reported on this phenomenon this week, with a focus on Oregon.  
SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Americans have been going to their local pharmacy for more than just prescriptions during the pandemic. They've been going there for masks, COVID-19 tests and vaccines. But even with that increased business, retail pharmacies, big and small, are closing their doors. Oregon Public Broadcasting's April Ehrlich reports that these closures are straining small towns where options were already limited.

APRIL EHRLICH, BYLINE: Lisa Raffety has rheumatoid arthritis and needs to take an anti-inflammatory medicine every day. If she can't get it on time, the consequences are severe.

LISA RAFFETY: I'll go two to three days at the most, and then I'm pretty much - I can't walk.

EHRLICH: She lives in Baker City, a small town in eastern Oregon that had one of its four pharmacies closed last year. Fifty-five-year-old Raffety says, since then, lines at the remaining pharmacies started going out the door.

RAFFETY: And it hurts to stand for any length of time, to be on my feet. It's a hard, cement floor.

EHRLICH: Raffety says some people bring their dinners and eat them in line. Store clerks have to bring out wheelchairs for people who can't stand that long. Last year, the Pacific Northwest retailer Bi-Mart announced it was getting out of the pharmacy business, closing nearly 60 pharmacy counters in three states. Many of them were in rural areas.

* * * 

Bi-Mart's spokesman Don Leber says there are several factors that went into the decision to close its pharmacies.

DON LEBER: We were really forced to make a decision we never wanted to make.

EHRLICH: He says one big issue is affecting pharmacies across the country - increasing fees, specifically from the middlemen that bridge pharmacies and insurance companies, called pharmaceutical benefit managers, or PBMs. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has had his eye on these companies recently, which he says are charging excessive fees that are pushing smaller pharmacies out of business.

RON WYDEN: For rural communities in Oregon, this is a five-alarm emergency.

EHRLICH: Basically, when someone gets a prescription through an insurance or Medicare plan, the PBM is supposed to reimburse the pharmacy for the drug cost and some overhead. But in recent years, PBMs started decreasing the amount they reimburse when pharmacies don't meet certain sales markers. Wyden has called on Congress to increase its oversight of pharmaceutical benefit managers. And some states like New York have started regulating PBMs at the state level.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Texas agriculture commissioner undermines Black farmers' claims, assistance from federal government

James Pollard reports for the Texas Tribune under the headline, "Black Texas farmers were finally on track to get federal aid. The state’s agriculture commissioner is helping stop that."  The subhead is, "Sid Miller is challenging a debt relief program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw as a way to correct historic discrimination. An advocate for Black Texas farmers says the challenge “pushes us back even further.”

Here's an excerpt that further sums up what's happening under the Republican agriculture commissioner: 

Last March, Congress passed a sweeping debt relief program for farmers of color. The culmination of 20 years of advocacy, the law would have provided $4 billion worth of debt relief for loans many of them had taken on to stay afloat while being passed over for financial programs and assistance their white counterparts had an easier time obtaining. Black farmers made up about a quarter of those targeted in the bill.

As agriculture commissioner, Miller leads an agency tasked with “advocat[ing] for policies at the federal, state, and local level” beneficial to Texas’s agriculture sector and “provid[ing] financial assistance to farmers and ranchers,” among other duties. In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Miller called the debt relief program “facially illegal and constitutionally impermissible.”

“Such a course will lead only to disunity and discord,” Miller said. “Shame on the Biden Administration for authorizing a program it knows was unambiguously illegal, instead of enacting a proper relief bill that complies with the laws and constitution of the United States.”

But advocates of the program saw it as an attempt to make Black farmers whole after years of USDA discrimination.

USDA press secretary Kate Waters told the Tribune that she couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation. She added the agency is establishing an equity commission of about 30 non-USDA employees to help identify how the USDA can eliminate structural barriers to various programs.

“There is a long history of racism at USDA. It’s a lot to unpack,” Waters said. “We’re on the case and we’re here to regain trust.”  

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXIV): New York Times takes up Omicron's impact on small-town government

Jill Cowan reports today on how widespread illness from the Omicron variant is affecting small municipal governments' ability to provide services.  Her story references what is happening in Marvell, Arkansas,  population 1,186, in the Mississippi Delta area and Verden, Oklahoma, population 530, in west central part of that state.   This quote sums up what is happening:  
It’s a familiar story in small towns across the country, where the spike in infections from the Omicron variant hit local governments with particular force. The virus has ripped through big cities like Los Angeles and New York, sidelining thousands of police officers and transit operators. In many, leaders have rushed to reassure residents that firefighters and paramedics will show up when they call amid record absences.

But in small communities, the people responsible for keeping crucial public services up and running say the strain is acute: With bare-bones workforces already stretched thin, there is no margin for error when multiple workers have to call in sick.

Brooks Rainwater, director of the National League of Cities Center for City Solutions, provided this context:  

Longer term, we’ve seen really strong economic challenges in rural America as the urban-rural divide has expanded.

* * *
Rural governments are small by design.

The story features Marvell's police chief, Bennie Daniels, Sr., who remarks, "I do everything my guys do, of course."  Daniels has been working 18-20 hour days.  He recently gave his officers a raise, from $13/hour to $15/hour.  

Lee Guest wears many hats in Marvell.  He is both mayor and assistant fire chief.  His day job is as a rural mail carrier.  He said he had to get off Facebook for a while because of backlash after he encouraged residents to get vaccinated.  

“I’m getting chewed out by people I grew up with,” said Mr. Guest, a lifelong resident who describes his ascent to the city’s top job almost like he was drafted. “There are times where I just want to be a mailman.”

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Literary ruralism (Part XXX): Kai Bird's The Outlier, a biography of Jimmy Carter

I started reading this very long but excellent book several months ago and I was immediately drawn in, even intrigued, by the depictions and representations of the rural South, where Carter grew up.  Here are some from the book's early chapters about Carter's childhood in Sumter County, Georgia, in the southwest part of the state (all emphasis mine):

This is from page 4, part of an overview, with a reference to the "enduring mystery about how a product of the Old South, a white boy reared in a highly segregated, conservative rural society, came to personify decency and an uncommon humanitarianism in the White House.”

Carter grew up in Archery, near the better-known Plains, the eldest son of James Earl Carter, Sr. and Lillian Carter.  The book reveals that the elder Carter was what political scientists now call an old-fashioned racist, whereas the man who became president was more influenced by his mother, who was more progressive on matters of race.  This is from page 16: 
Archery was a throwback to the nineteenth century. Jimmy’s father, James Earl Carter Sr., had a tenth-grade education before dropping out to join the army. In 1903, when Earl was only 10 years old, his father, William Archibald Carter, was shot dead during a violent brawl with a business rival. They had been arguing over who was the rightful owner of a desk. Earl was certainly not country “white trash”—but neither was he part of the southern plantation aristocracy. By the late 1920’s, he made more than a comfortable living growing peanuts, corn, and cotton and drawing “rents” from his Black tenants. He managed to expand his farm acreage even during the boll weevil blight of the 1920’s, which wiped out many cotton farmers.

Jimmy Carter was apparently a fan of William Faulkner.  Here's a salient passage from page 20 of the Bird biography:   

More than most white southerners, the rural folk of South Georgia had defied assimilation and loyalty clung to their native culture as a matter of principle. They had their own vernacular and distinctive accent. And they had their own religion, and unvarnished, evangelical southern Protestantism that affirmed the supremacy of the white race in society and patriarchy at home.

Two generations had passed since the Civil War, but that conflagration continued to define their collective identity. “The past is never dead. It's not even past”—so says Gavin Stevens, a character in Faulkner's novel Requiem for a Nun.  Curtis Wilkie, a celebrated journalist from Mississippi who later covered the Carter administration, wrote in his memoirs, “We deliberately set ourselves apart from the rest of America during the Civil War and continue, to this day, to live as spiritual citizens of a nation that existed for only four years in another century.” The South had lost the Civil War but most if not all white southerners unashamedly celebrated what they revered as the “Lost Cause”. On the eve of the Civil War, Georgia was the South's leading slave state with some 462,000 slaves, or nearly 45% of the population. It was also the last southern state to rejoin the union, in July 1870. It was all about slavery. The South was preoccupied with a history heavily laden with questions about guilt, evil, and sin. History mattered to these Georgians.

Here is more on Jimmy Carter's father, known as Earl, at p. 21, plus an interesting defense of the father by Jimmy Carter's more progressive mother: 

“Earl was a confirmed segregationist. “Jimmy Carter's daddy, I knew him before he died,” recalled Bobby Rowan, once a state senator from Enigma, Georgia. “He was a redneck, hard-nosed, hard-driving Southern plantation owner.” He called his African American tenants “niggahs.” but years later, Miss Lillian staunchly defended her late husband. “Oh, he said things,” she told a reporter in 1976. “He believed in the black man's inferiority, but he was no different from all those people around here and all over the country who are now trying to pretend they were never prejudiced. Earl would have changed... It annoys me to hear people denounce him when he was simply a Southern man who lived at a certain time.”

And from page 22, more historical context on the rural south: 

Jimmy's childhood was steeped in the old South. It was then, and arguably has struggled to remain, a nation within a nation, a foreign province that just happens to exist within the boundaries of the Yankee realm. A conquered territory. In the words of W. J. Cash, the author of the deeply melancholic 1941 classic The Mind of the South, “The South is another land.” Carter himself read the book in the late 1940s. Cash wrote in the anguished voice of a southern intellectual from South Carolina, and his critical portrait of the states that embrace for doomed Confederacy is heartfelt and sadly poignant. He wrote of the South's capacity for violence, it's inherent intolerance and “attachment to fictions and false values.” But the region's greatest vice, he argued, was its “attachment to racial values and a tendency to justify cruelty and injustice in the name of those values... and despite changes for the better, they remain its characteristic vices today.”

Cash was writing in the late 1930s, describing precisely the “sleepy old hamlets” in cotton fields that were scenery of Jimmy Carter's childhood. A belief in white supremacy permeated the red-baked clay earth of South Georgia. It defined the culture of Plains and other small towns across the old South. It was a culture that could foster both moments of gentleness and episodes of what the Mississippi journalist Willie Morris labeled “unthinking sadism.” Like Faulkner, Morris was one of a legion of astute southern writers who spent their writing lives exploring the curious gulf between the region’s “manners and morals, the extraordinary opposition of its violence and kindliness.” That was the way things were and, it seemed, always had been. The defining mystery of the future president’s childhood was how he nevertheless was molded into something quite alien from his South Georgian racist culture.

There are more passages that use the words "rural," "country," "redneck," and such, but I'll save those for a future post.  

Monday, January 17, 2022

How definitions of "rural" impact grant eligibility

Jonathan Ahl of Missouri Public Radio reported today on how varying federal definitions of "rural" impact which communities are eligible for federal funds for improvements like broadband.  Ahl reports from two contiguous counties in Missouri, Texas and Phelps.  Texas County's population is just 24.487, while Phelps County's population is nearly double that, at 45,000.  Bottom line: Phelps County is more populous and has a stronger tax base, but it gets greater benefits from federal broadband programs because it is farther--as the crow flies--from a metro area than is Texas County.  But since the counties sit right next to each other, it's only farther by a matter of degree.  And by other measures, Phelps County is less rural.  It's got a greater population and a higher population density.   The story doesn't talk about this, but it's also presumably got more human capital for chasing grant funding.    

Here are some excerpts from the story, starting with this one about Houston, the county seat of Texas County:  

Houston struggles with infrastructure, and city administrator Scott Avery was looking for ways to bring high-speed internet to town.

SCOTT AVERY: There's a federal grant that I was looking at with the broadband. There's a ton of federal grants. One of them defines rural as more than 100 miles from a metro area. Well, I'm less than 100 air miles from Springfield, so I don't qualify.

AHL: Springfield is a metro area of about a half a million, and it's an hour and 40 minute drive away on two-lane roads, but only 90 miles as the crow flies. So for that grant, this small town that prides itself on country life wasn't rural enough. About an hour north in Rolla, Mo., it's a different story.

Then there is this about Rolla, the county seat of Phelps County to the north: 

I'm on the pedestrian overpass above Interstate 44 at one of the four exits into Rolla. Right ahead of me is Phelps Health. It's a big hospital with its own cancer center. Off to the left, Missouri S&T - it's a high-tech research institution with 6,000 students. But this town of 20,000 - it's more than 100 miles away from Springfield and St. Louis. So according to that broadband grant, this is rural.

LOU MAGDITS: When I look at the city of Rolla, I don't think it meets the definition - any of the definitions - of rural.

AHL: Lou Magdits is the mayor of Rolla. He spends a lot of time telling people about Rolla's amenities, its airport, numerous manufacturing plants and high tech sector. And while his city didn't apply for that particular broadband grant Houston was shut out of, Magdits doesn't shy away from grants intended to help small towns.

MAGDITS: If a grant come down that was tied to rural, I would probably self-justify it by saying, you know, look; the Rolla and its periphery probably could meet that definition.

Bottom line:  Tiny Houston doesn't qualify for funding because it is marginally closer to metropolitan Springfield while larger Rolla and Phelps County do.   Let's face it:  doesn't make a lot of sense.  

But, then, I see this is the 190th post using the label "defining rural," which suggests just what a quagmire this matter is.  

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Resisting high tech industrialization in exurban northern Virginia

The Washington Post reported a few days ago on a land use conflict out of northern Virginia, in particular exurban Prince William County northwest of the District of Columbia and adjacent to Loudon County.  Antonio Olivo writes about a group of landowners in what is locally known as the "rural crescent" of the county who are trying to sell their land for use as a server farm.  This has created controversy among others residents and land owners who say they have moved to this area in order to live a rural lifestyle, some of them escaping the scrum of the District of Columbia in retirement.  Here's the story's lede:  
Residents along Pageland Lane once would have scoffed at the idea of their farms and regal brick homes becoming the site of a massive data center complex, given all the years of fighting to keep their rural oasis free of Northern Virginia’s relentless growth.

But after a string of defeats that has left their Prince William County neighborhood filled with traffic and towering transmission lines, those residents are now hoping to sell their land so it can become a 2,100-acre hub to the world’s Internet traffic.

“It’s just gotten worse and worse,” said Page Snyder, 71, who grew up on the farm she owns near a Civil War battle site and a sprawling retirement village whose development she and her neighbors opposed. “Basically, we’ve just thrown in the towel.”

Their effort to convince the county to change its land use policy in a portion of western Prince William, where most types of new development have been restricted, sparked a fierce backlash in the broader community — pulling even documentary filmmaker Ken Burns into a larger debate about the changing identity of the fast-growing county that, elsewhere, is struggling with crowded schools and widening pockets of poverty.
Another story about rural data centers, the one out West in Oregon, is here.  

An interesting aspect of this Washington Post piece is something I have seen in California, near Sacramento where I live.  In El Dorado County, for example, just to the east of Sacramento County, one often sees candidates signs with messages like "Keep El Dorado County Rural."  One rarely sees unpacked what this means policy-wise, for example, but it seems to a be a slogan that resonates with many voters.  Another post on the topic is here.  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A young Mainer's ideas for cultivating the rural vote

Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in an essay for the Washington Post a few days ago (published simultaneously in the Nation magazine, for which vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher) about Chloe Maxmin, a Maine state legislator who grew up in rural, impoverished Lincoln County, in the state's mid-coast region.  (Prior posts mentioning Wiscasset, the county seat of Lincoln County, are here).

 Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, have a book coming out in a few months on the topic.  Here's an excerpt from vanden Heuvel's essay, inspired by Maxmin's work and ideas:  

First, to reach someone, you have to reach out. Rural Democrats consistently lament that the national party hasn’t invested enough money or time in rural organizing. By contrast, during her 2020 campaign, Maxmin says she had 90,000 voter contacts, the most of any state Senate campaign in the state. Her closest opponent had just 35,000. As a result, she connected with persuadable Trump voters who had never spoken with a Democratic candidate.

And Maxmin didn’t just talk to voters; she sought to understand them. As she told me during an interview last year, her canvassing strategy was “to stand there for 10 or 15 minutes and have a conversation — and then go back and follow up.” The progressive advocacy group People’s Action calls this approach “deep canvassing,” and found that it helped decrease Trump’s margins where implemented in key battleground states.

But once you’ve started a conversation with voters, how do you connect your policies to their problems?

Many Democrats respond to any reflexive rural repulsion against “progressivism” by disavowing it and running toward the center. (Just ask any average Joe, be they Lieberman, Manchin or Biden.) But Maxmin has a different strategy. She makes progressive ideals concrete, real and relevant to people’s lives — so conversations can move past talking points and cut straight to what these changes could actually mean.
I was struck, too, by this very poignant vignette, which had me thinking about how folks along the political spectrum judge those they deem "white trash."  (Bear in mind that Maine has one of the oldest and whitest populations in the nation).
Maxmin and Woodward describe an encounter when Maxmin, canvassing alone, walked down a dirt road leading to a nondescript trailer. She knocked on the door, which cracked open to reveal a man who appeared hesitant to hear from her. Nevertheless, she introduced herself and asked him about the issues he cared about most in the coming election. They chatted for a bit, and then he said something she may not have expected to hear: “You’re the first person to listen to me. Everyone judges what my house looks like. They don’t bother to knock. I’m grateful that you came. I’m going to vote for you.”

I was reminded of the article about Maxmin when this came across my Twitter feed today, from a young Minnesotan associated with the Rural Rising Project:  


Like Maxmin, this organizer is endorsing listening as a critical part of the process, something urban and coastal elites--so assured they know everything, have all the answers--are often not very good at.   

Other recent posts about cultivating the rural vote are here and here.  

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.

What Rural GroundGame offers is a pathway to Democratic success everywhere. At Rural GroundGame, our mission is to develop and execute programs for the support, training, and development of rural Democrats. Programs that are created for candidates, campaigns, and committees to secure a deeper level of investment in and by Democrats in every zip code. This work is focused on getting Democrats elected, improving electoral margins, holding Republicans accountable for their public records, and upholding our shared values.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Majority-minority town in eastern Iowa elects a majority Latino/a city council

NPR reports today about a majority Latino/a city council in West Liberty, Iowa, population 3,858, in the eastern part of the state.  Kassidy Arena explains that West Liberty is just one majority-minority locale in what we tend to think of as racially homogeneous--that is, white--rural America:    

ARENA: When you drive into Iowa's first majority Latino city, the first thing you'll see is a building with an enormous mural. It declares, you belong here, on the left; tu perteneces aqui, in Spanish, on the right. Two-term City Councilman Jose Zacarias is bundled in a jacket on a cold day, standing in front of the colorful mural.

JOSE ZACARIAS: And the message is the right message. It's in English; it's in Spanish. This is who we are, you know? Now people, Anglo people, are talking about - we are no longer two communities living in the same place; we are growing into one.

ARENA: This is exactly the kind of town the Center for Rural Innovation (ph) has been focusing on. The nonprofit promotes economic prosperity and diverse leadership throughout rural America. Director Matt Dunne says he sees it in rural America's makeup all across the country.

MATT DUNNE: One of the things that we've spent a lot of time on over the last several years is making sure that the country knows that rural America is not white America, that the diversity of people in rural places is part of its vibrancy and its potential.

ARENA: Jose Zacarias has been in West Liberty for decades after emigrating from Mexico. He first came here for a job in the town's meatpacking plant. Over time, he's watched the Latino community blossom, watching residents become citizens, then voters and, finally, political candidates. But it hasn't always been an easy transition.

My writing about Latina/os in "new immigrant destinations"--especially rural ones--is here.   

Thursday, January 13, 2022

More on rural stuff in Newsom's California budget proposal

I wrote about this a few days ago here and now will just highlight some other items that are, shall we say, rural adjacent, though not necessarily labeled as "rural" explicitly in coverage of Newsom's new proposed budget.  What follows is all from Sammy Roth's climate newsletter, Boiling Point in the Los Angeles Times, which, by the way, is excellent.  My only beef is that in this column he does not use the word "rural" or "nonmetro" or even "wildland" (as in the "wildland-urban interface) anywhere in his reporting.  Here are excerpts from the newsletter, including the headings, that implicate rurality: 
1. Nothing more important than transportation.

The governor proposed $6.1 billion in new funds to help Californians ditch gasoline, including $256 million in clean car rebates and other programs for low-income families, $900 million to build electric vehicle chargers in low-income neighborhoods and $419 million for “community-based transportation equity projects.” Those projects could include electric van pools for farmworkers, for instance, or infrastructure to support electric bikes or scooters — whatever local communities determine they most need.  (emphasis added)  
Speaking of transportation, especially for farmworkers, the Los Angles Times reported a few days ago on a pathbreaking program out of the Central Valley town of Huronpopulation 6,754, at the southwest edge of Fresno County.  Here's an excerpt from Evan Halper's story about the city's small-fleet of electric cars for residents' free use:  
For most of Rey León’s life, the city of Huron has been a transportation desert.

When he was a child, it took three hours and 13 stops to ride a bus 53 miles to Fresno to visit a cousin in the hospital. “That experience stuck with me,” he said.

By the time he’d graduated from UC Berkeley and returned to the community to help his aging parents, little had changed. Even after he was elected Huron mayor five years ago, León’s lobbying for reliable bus routes to Fresno, Visalia and Coalinga got nowhere with regional planners, who chafed at the cost.

“It’s always about who do you value and what do you value,” León said. “Farmworker communities have never been valued.”
* * *
Tucked behind the boarded-up buildings of the town’s struggling main drag is an arsenal of innovation that León calls the Green Raiteros. It has put Huron on the map as perhaps the greenest migrant farmworker community in the country. Headquartered in a former diesel truck garage, the growing fleet of nine electric cars managed by León’s Green Raiteros program shuttles residents all over Fresno County free of charge.

Remarkable.  Well done, Mayor. 

Now, back to the Boiling Point newsletter and  the governor's budget:  

3. Cleaning up the electric grid

* * *  

The budget also sets aside $240 million for a specific pumped storage project at Oroville Dam, in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

When state officials built the State Water Project in the 1960s, they gave themselves the ability to “store” energy by pumping water upstream to Oroville Dam when electricity supply exceeded demand, then releasing water back downstream — spinning electric turbines along the way — when demand exceeded supply. But the system hasn’t been used for about 15 years, since it interferes with the state’s ability to release enough cold water from Oroville into the Feather River, to help salmon and other fish survive.
4. Not just traditional climate stuff

Sanchez was especially excited to talk about proposed investments that might not normally be considered part of a climate plan, but which she sees as critically important for helping Californians cope with — and work to prevent — rising temperatures.

One of those investments is $1 billion for new housing — and not just any housing, but “infill” housing within developed areas, rather than sprawling new subdivisions that create the need for long car trips. Newsom wants to spend $500 million building homes on “prime infill parcels in downtown-oriented areas.” Another $300 million would go to the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, which funds “land-use, housing, transportation and land preservation projects.”
* * * 
6. A Unique Approach to Lithium Valley

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know one of my favorite stories is lithium extraction and geothermal energy in the Imperial Valley, at the southern end of the Salton Sea. The super-heated geothermal reservoir thousands of feet beneath the salty lake could produce loads of lithium for electric vehicle batteries, along with round-the-clock climate-friendly power.

Newsom’s budget doesn’t propose funding the companies looking to tap that reservoir, but it does dangle a promise that might be even more valuable — faster and simpler environmental permitting. In exchange for that regulatory support, the companies would need to agree to some kind of revenue sharing, to make sure the people of the Imperial Valley — a low-income, largely Latino region dominated by the agriculture industry — actually benefit from the new economic development.
7. Maybe Tesla Will Come Back
* * *
Other budget provisions could create new jobs plugging abandoned oil and gas wells — a big source of pollution in Los Angeles and statewide. In addition to $200 million for well plugging, Newsom proposed $15 million for a pilot program to train displaced oil and gas workers for those jobs, and a $50-million pilot fund to support displaced fossil fuel workers more broadly.8. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget fire and drought

Last year’s budget included $1.5 billion to fight wildfires. This year’s adds $1.2 billion, much of it for forest thinning, prescribed burns and other projects to reduce fire risks. It also adds $750 million to last year’s $5.2 billion for drought response, including $180 million for water suppliers to plug leaks, tear out grass and improve efficiency; $145 million in emergency assistance for communities at risk of going dry; $75 million to protect fish and wildlife; and $30 million for replenishing groundwater.

One other item that caught my attention: $40 million “to repurpose irrigated agricultural land to reduce reliance on groundwater while providing community health, economic well-being, water supply, habitat, renewable energy, and climate benefits.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Good K-12 experiences in small rural high schools tend to draw former students home in mid-adulthood

Iowa State University's press release about a new publication on the rural brain drain came across my Twitter feed this morning.  Here's an excerpt:  

Many academics and journalists have written about rural “brain drain,” the migration of talented and bright young people who leave their communities, usually in search of better economic opportunities. But a team of Iowa State University researchers have identified three significant factors that draw people back to their hometowns a decade or two after leaving: public schools, population density and other college-degree-holders in the community.

The researchers’ findings, recently published in the academic journal Rural Sociology, reveal college graduates between 34 and 43 years of age were more likely to return to the rural communities where they grew up if they had a strong attachment to their public K-12 schools. Feeling like their teachers cared or that they were part of the school community and had close friends were significant drivers.

When examining high school characteristics, the researchers found the size of the school mattered; participants who attended a high school with more than 350 students were 74% less likely to return home than participants who attended a school with fewer than 125 students.

“We often hear that rural schools aren't as good as their urban counterparts, but here is an example where they are in a unique position to foster strong relationships and a sense of belonging, which can have long-term impacts,” said Stephanie Sowl, one of the paper’s co-authors and a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at Iowa State.  

* * * 

“A lot of the previous research on the migration of college graduates looked at people right after earning their degree; our study focuses on people in their mid-30s to early 40s who are going to be more stable and financially secure,” said Sowl. “During this life stage, they may also have a shift in priorities that would lead them back to their hometowns.”

Older college graduates may be more interested in a safe place to raise their kids, good schools, affordable housing and open space. Other life events, like needing to care for older relatives, divorce or taking over a family farm could also affect this decision to move back.

Here's a marginally related story about how the pandemic has slowed Wyoming's brain drain