Tuesday, December 29, 2015

California and the rural way of life: Part IV - Solutions to the lack of rural representation in California

This is the last installment in the "California and the rural way of life" series.  In my previous three posts, I focused on some of the issues that rural Californians have with their state government and how many rural Californians (and rural people in general) distrust their own government and feel that they are not being represented by those in power (see here for Part I and links for other posts on this topic, here for Part II, and here for Part III).  This post will focus on several ways that California (and other states) can tackle the lack of rural representation in state policy decisions.  One idea comes from the proponents of Jefferson State, one is inspired from an Arizona law, and another from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Jefferson State

The proponents of Jefferson State seek to have counties in Northern California and Southern Oregon secede from their respective states and join together to form a new 51st state.  Doing this would allow the new state, comprised of mostly rural counties, to elect their own governor, legislators, and judges.  Those elected to public positions would be from rural counties and theoretically be more sympathetic to issues that affect rural communities.  There has also been a push to split California into six different states (see post here) to solve the same issue of lack of representation.

Jefferson State would not be without its problems though.  The state would have a much smaller economy than the rest of California and Oregon.  The new state would relinquish the economic powerhouses of California's Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Portland while keeping two persistent poverty counties in Northern California (see post here).  Because of this, the new state might have difficulties maintaining essential infrastructure like roads and bridges and have difficulty funding public service programs like Medicare.

The chance that Jefferson State will become a reality seems very low.  Although in the last decade rural counties have seemingly become more vocal about seceding to form Jefferson State, this idea has been around over 70 years (since 1941) without any success.  Even if the end goal of these rural counties is to form a new state, there are things that can be done in the more short term to address the issue of rural representation in California and Oregon.  The next two ideas can be implemented in any state in the country.  

For more information on Jefferson State, see posts here and here.

Legislative distinctions between rural and urban in Arizona

In Arizona and other states, legislatures have made laws that apply to rural and urban communities differently.  In 1997, Arizona passed a statute that prohibited minors from possessing firearms in public places.  This law, however, only applied to counties with populations greater than 500,000.   The law essentially targeted Arizona's two urban counties and had no effect on Arizona's rural counties.  The law also exempted "those engaged in hunting, marksmanship, and ranching or production of agriculture."  For more discussion on this law and legislative distinctions between rural and urban generally, see part D of Rural Rhetoric (page 199 or page 41of 82 online).

This targeted approach to lawmaking could help alleviate some of the impact that broad "one size fits all" laws have on rural communities.  However, this would only work on a small percentage of laws passed by the state.  The only laws that could be targeted would be those in which the problem the law is trying to address only exists in either urban or rural communities.  Further, you would need a legislature that is willing to draft these type of targeted laws. 

The laws (and the moratorium) that I brought up in my previous posts would not be good candidates for this type of targeted legislative approach.  The laws that I discussed were about a ban on hunting mountain lions, a ban on using dogs to hunt bears, a statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition, and a moratorium on gold dredging.  These laws were enacted for the betterment of the public and addressed concerns over environmental and moral issues.  It would be difficult to enact a law that allowed gold dredging in rural counties while banning it in urban counties (or vice versa).  This would also make the law ineffective at stopping the remobilization of mercury or destruction of fish redds.  The same argument can be applied to the ban on lead hunting ammunition and the hunting of mountain lions.

The ban on bear hunting with dogs is a law based on modern morals (possibly more urban morals).  Although moral issues could possibly be candidates for a targeted legislative approach, this particular law probably wouldn't.  It would not make any sense to distinguish hunting bears with dogs in a rural area with hunting in an urban area because bears are typically not hunted in urban areas.  In addition, although this law is statewide, it can be argued that it is already a targeted law because it only effects rural areas. 

Certain laws banning activities that are deemed immoral could be targeted to urban areas.  For example, more and more urban households are raising backyard chickens.  For more about this phenomenon, see here, here, here, and here.  Imagine that lawmakers want to ban killing chickens by cutting off their heads if they can be seen by the public or neighbors.  Let's say the reason for the law is because seeing chickens run around with their heads cut off can be traumatizing to people who are unfamiliar with the practice.  The urban chicken farmers, if they didn't have a private concealed yard already, would then have to build fences high enough so that the public could not see the dispatching of the chickens or build special shacks to kill the chickens.  Now assume that rural people are more familiar and accepting with the practice of killing chickens by cutting their heads off and the activity is seen as acceptable because it is the fastest and most efficient way to kill a chicken (I understand that this plays to stereotypes of rural people but this specific stereotype is only used to illustrate my point).  Targeting the law to urban areas would allow the rural chicken farmers (not large scale farms of course) to continue their practice of killing chickens for food without the burden of building a fence or special shack to kill their chickens.  It would also stop urban morals being thrust upon the rural population.

Rural Proofing 

In Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, lawmakers engage in a practice called "rural proofing."  According to the 2009 Rural and Regional Committee, Final Report: Inquiry into Regional Centers of the Future, Parliament of Victoria, rural proofing is described as "a process for taking into account the circumstances and needs of the rural community (rural people and rural businesses) when developing and implementing policy."  When making laws, lawmakers consider issues such as rural spatiality, the rural population's access to services such as hospitals, schools, water, and social services, the cost of compliance with the new law, and whether the law disproportionally effects rural communities.  For an example of how rural proofing could be used to solve rural after-school program licensing issues, see blog post here.

Rural proofing could be used in California to address the impact that laws have on rural communities.  If the state was forced to consider the impacts that laws have on the rural population, the laws could have less of a negative impact (or a more positive impact) on rural communities.  In Addition, even if rural proofing did not alter laws in any significant way, the fact that rural communities would be considered when drafting new laws would go a long way to ease the rural population's distrust of their government.  Rural proofing would essentially give the rural people a voice in the capital.

If California adopted a rural proofing policy, the rural people of California would still have to be informed about the policy.  The people need to trust that their government is looking out for their best interests.  Informing and educating the rural population about the policy and how to get in touch with lawmakers is essential to resolve issues that rural populations face.  How else would lawmakers truly understand how laws effect the rural population if they did not hear from the rural people themselves?

Rural proofing is a good idea and should be implemented.  That being said, it is doubtful that rural proofing would completely solve any of the issues I talked about in previous posts (ban on hunting mountain lions, a ban on using dogs to hunt bears, a statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition, and a moratorium on gold dredging).  However, it would at least allow lawmakers to consider the impacts that the laws have on rural people.  If lawmakers understood the tradition of hunting bears with dogs or how some rural people supplement their income and remove mercury from streams by gold dredging, maybe the laws could be slightly different than they are today.  Maybe hunting bears with dogs could be slowly phased out instead of leaving bear dog owners with dogs they can no longer use (and still have to feed, house, exercise, etc.).  Maybe if lawmakers considered the impact of a moratorium on the dredging community, a moratorium would not be implemented until scientists had completed environmental impact studies (if the studies showed that dredging has a net negative impact).  Maybe the lawmakers would consider allowing smaller dredges to continue to operate while banning the largest dredges.


There is not one right answer to solve the issue of rural representation at the state level.  In order to allow the rural population's voice to be heard in the capital, rural communities should strive to implement both targeted legislation and rural proofing.  Rural proofing and targeted legislation could work hand in hand.  Forcing lawmakers to consider the impacts of legislation on rural communities would leave the door open to more targeted laws.  For example, if a new law disproportionally effects rural communities, the law could be tailored so that it only effects urban populations.   

Some may argue that Jefferson State is the best way to solve the representation issue.  Even if that is true, it would be much easier to implement policy changes at the capital than it would to secede.  Furthermore, even if the end goal is to form a new state, why not try to implement new beneficial policies in the meantime?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown's rural California escape

Here's the story by Adam Nagourney in today's New York Times.  The dateline is Williams, California, population 5,123, and the lede follows:
Four dusty miles off State Route 20, around a curve on a dirt road once used by stagecoaches, a scattering of barns and dilapidated buildings sits hidden among rolling hills speckled with oak trees. There is no electricity or cell service. There is a compact outhouse and a redwood cabin just big enough to hold one air mattress. There is no other sign of civilization for miles.
This is Rancho Venada, and for all its isolation and ostensible inhospitality, it is the place that this state’s governor, Jerry Brown, is gravitating to as he approaches the end of his 50-year career in politics. These 2,514 wind-swept acres have been owned by the Brown family for almost 150 years, since the governor’s great-grandfather August Schuckman, a German immigrant, traveled to central California on a wagon train.
An earlier post about Jerry Brown's relationship to Colusa County and rural California is here.

(Re)claiming "white trash": a commentary on race, class and geography

NPR's Race Card series ran a piece this morning headlined, "6 Words:  Yes, I'm Tobacco Pickin' White Trash."  Michele Norris, who runs the "Race Card" project selected this submission on race and identity from Tracy Hart, an economist in Washington, DC.  Norris notes that Hart is one of many who have made a race card submission to describe their roots at the intersection of race, class and geography.  The term "white trash" shows up fairly often in the six-word submissions for The Race Card Project, Norris says, as do words like hillbilly, redneck, hayseed and bumpkin. Norris is quoted:
People are sometimes writing about pain, sometimes they're using humor to distance themselves from the pain, sometimes it's associated with a kind of nostalgia.  
Some other such submissions listed in the story are:
Hillbilly White Trash? I'm Oxford educated — C. B., West Va.
"Appalachian" means "none of your business" — Amy Tanisha, Petaluma, Calif.
Hillbilly – the wrong kind of white — TR Kelley, Swisshome, Ore.
I'm Appalachian — it's an invisible ethnicity— Catherine Vance Agrella, Asheville, N.C.
Poor white trash, not welcome here — Tracie Combs-Cantu, Austin, Texas
Do hillbillies have white privilege too?— Tony Van Winkle, Knoxville, Tenn.
One thing I like about these is that most recognize explicitly that whites have race, too.

So how does a well-traveled World Bank economist like Hart come to claim the phrase "white trash" for herself?  Well, Norris suggests it involves a bit of nostalgia and pain, but I would suggest that there is also a sort of pride inherent in claiming the term.  I say "pride" because the extended family Hart describes were poor.  What Norris's report overlooks, however, is that Hart's family was not lazy.   In particular, Hart describes her great uncle, Reese Billings, who lived in Independence, Virginia.
He died within the last 10 years, never having had indoor plumbing, never having had electrical wiring in his house, never having had a telephone line to his house.  The water for the kitchen came from the stream through a PVC pipe, then dumped into a sink and then there was an egress PVC pipe that took it back to the stream downhill. And that was the only running water in the house.
So what Hart describes is rural poverty, but it is not what I and people like Matt Wray consider the sine qua non of white trash:  dirtiness and laziness.  Indeed, as Hart acknowledges, the fact her ancestors picked tobacco ultimately helped pay for her education at UC Berkeley.

Norris notes that the term "white trash" is pejorative--harsh and a slur--but it can also be used as a shield.  I think this is where the "pride" associated with white comes in.  The story continues, referring to Hart:
For those in the Deep South, she says, the term has been embraced by a significant part of poor people who feel misunderstood. "They feel misunderstood because of the heavy legacy of slavery and segregation and poverty," she says. "And I think part of their feeling misunderstood is to take on or embrace that term, which is self-denigrating but it also says, 'We've been hurt, too.' "
Hart further observes:
I'm able to admit it [her "white trash" family/background] because I've stepped out of it. ... It's where I'm from — but it's not where I'm at.
In other words, Hart is a white class migrant.  As such, she gets to take some moral high ground in what she has accomplished, her move up the socioeconomic ladder.

Kudos to Norris for including this piece in the Race Card Project and to Hart and others who have written to the project for being courageous enough to claim who they are, where they've come from.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

An animal tragedy in rural Arkansas makes national news

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post picked up a tragic story out of rural Arkansas this week.  Here's the lede from Katie Rogers' story in the Times, headlined "After Dozens of Dogs are Left Dead in the Woods, an Arkansas Town Rallies."  
The dogs had been lying on the ground for days before they were found last Thursday [December 17]. They numbered 62 or 63, adult mutts whose bodies were strewed around deep woods in part of northern Arkansas where almost no one goes. 
One of the few surviving dogs had been shot through the collarbone and jaw. Another survivor appeared to have been a pet. 
The dozens who did not survive had been fed hot dogs stuffed with sleeping pills before they were shot with a .22 rifle.
No one has reported exactly where the dogs were found, except to say Searcy County and to indicate that the dogs were "stumbled upon by men visiting the secluded area to price timber."  Searcy County, population 7,929, is a persistent poverty county in the Ozarks Highlands, with a poverty rate of 26.1%.  It is virtually all white.  The dateline of one Associated Press report was Chimes, which wikipedia tells us is an unincorporated community that straddles Searcy and Van Buren counties.  

Sarah Larimer's story in the Washington Post includes this quote from County Sheriff Joey Pruitt (no known relation to me, though I grew up in neighboring Newton County):
Just right now, you know, my thought is it was probably someone that was maybe rescuing dogs or some sort of rescue operation that probably just ran out of funds and couldn’t feed them.  I don’t know. I don’t think it’s some kind of organization that’s going around stealing people’s pets. Most of the dogs appeared to be in good health. There were a few that appeared to be malnourished. But for the most part, they were healthy looking dogs.
Larimer's report also includes more forensic-type details of how the dogs were found.   

Rogers describes the Searcy County Animal Shelter: 
Six of the survivors were taken to the Humane Society of Searcy, where volunteers work out of a pole barn and feed animals, in part, from proceeds from a tip jar.
The treasurer of the local animal shelter is quoted:
We’ve had lots of people come in and just hand us money, bring us food.
As the NYT headline suggests, Rogers also plays up the community response, and she notes the response of national animal welfare organizations, which is presumably one reason the story got picked up in the national media.   A total reward of about $10K is now on offer for information about who committed this crime.

The episode has me thinking more about how rural spatiality conceals (read more here)--in this case the crime of animal cruelty--even in a place where animal rights are not taken very seriously.  It also reminds me of this piece in the NYT a few years ago.  It is about the movement of surplus mutts from the rural South, where people tend to be poor and institutional funds to care for the dogs are in shorter supply, to the northeast, where many in cities wish to adopt these dogs.  Read more here.  Too bad whoever killed these dogs in Searcy County didn't know about that operation.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rural insularity, racism blamed for problems at High Desert State Prison, California

If you've ever seen the 2007 documentary, Prison Town USA, you won't be surprised by a report released yesterday by the California Inspector General.  That report was the subject of a New York Times story headlined, "California Rebukes Rural Prison for Racism."  Here's the lede for Timothy Williams's story:
Guards at a rural California prison use other prisoners’ possessions to reward inmates who assault each other, discriminate against black and Latino inmates, and routinely engage in unnecessary force, according to a California inspector general report released Wednesday. 
High Desert State Prison, in Susanville, which is in the northeast of the state near Nevada, was also found to be significantly overcrowded and to be imbued with a “culture of racism and lack of acceptance of ethnic differences,” according to Robert A. Barton, the state’s inspector general.
The Sacramento Bee story about the report unpacks a bit more why "rural" appears in the headline--that is, why rurality seems relevant to what is happening at High Desert and not merely to where it it happening.  Here's the lede for Jon Ortiz's story:  
Prison officers at a remote state prison have excessively used force on inmates in a “culture of racism” nurtured in social isolation and encouraged by a union that coached its members to stymie investigators, according to a scorching report issued Wednesday.
To further unpack the "social isolation" reference, Ortiz later reports: 
“(A) perception of insularity and indifference to inmates exists at High Desert State Prison,” the report states, “exacerbated by the unique geographical isolation, the high-stress environment, and a labor organization that opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could in any way adversely affect another officer.”
(emphasis added) 

To illustrate and explain the "unique geographical isolation" and racism points, Ortiz explains:  
Located in California’s northwest corner, High Desert and a second state correctional center there employ more locals than any other business in Susanville, population 16,000. Three-quarters of the nearly 1,000 staff are white, compared with just 18 percent of the prison’s 3,500 inmates. Many of the employees are from Susanville.

A section of town is reportedly known as “CO Row” for its concentration of prison-officer residents and their families. Outsiders to Susanville, the report says, tend to come and go.
Further, the prison is at 149% of capacity.

Damn depressing stuff, but much of it was depicted--sometimes subtly, sometimes not--in "Prison Town USA," which is a very powerful documentary.   Not to make excuses, but the film gives you such a vivd sense of how economically depressed Susanville is that it's not hard to imagine the corrections officers (COs) taking power where they can find it--from the inmates.  The Bee story lists a number of abuses detailed in the report.  Both news stories also make clear that steps are being taken to mitigate the problems, including the recent appointment of a new warden.

Susanville is the county seat of Lassen County, population 31,749, of which 66% is non-Hispanic white.  Nearly 9% of the population is black, 18.8% of the population is Hispanic, and 4.8% is American Indian.  In Susanville, 12.5% of the population is black, 23.7% Hispanic, and 55.4% non-Hispanic white.  Those data indicate just how much a prison population--counted where the prison is located, not where the prisoners are from--can skew a county's racial/ethnic demographic when it is is home to a prison.  Lassen County's poverty rate is 16.9%.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article50189350.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article50189350.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article50189350.html#storylink=cpy

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On the challenge of rural organizing and politicking

Here's a line from Alec MacGillis's November NYT piece, "Who Turned My Blue State Red?"(discussed here) that I missed the first time I read it:
So where does this leave Democrats and anyone seeking to expand and build lasting support for safety-net programs such as Obamacare? 
For starters, it means redoubling efforts to mobilize the people who benefit from the programs. This is no easy task with the rural poor, who are much more geographically scattered than their urban counterparts. Not helping matters in this regard is the decline of local institutions like labor unions — while the United Mine Workers of America once drove turnout in coal country, today there is not a single unionized mine still operating in Kentucky.
So how do we mobilize the rural poor?  Can technology play a role?

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Chinese may seem "over the top" with their rural idyll, Jackson Hole, but ...

On the front page of today's New York Times is this story about Jackson Hole, China, "Living a Frontier Dream on Outskirts of China's Capital," by Andrew Jacobs.  Here's the lede:
Yearning to breathe untainted air, the band of harried urbanites flocked to this parched, wild land, bringing along their dreams of a free and uncomplicated life. 
But unlike the bedraggled pioneers who settled the American West, the first inhabitants of Jackson Hole, a resort community on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, arrived by Audi and Land Rover, their trunks filled with French wine and their bank accounts flush with cash. 
Over the past decade, more than a thousand families have settled into timber-frame houses with generous backyards, on streets with names like Aspen, Moose and Route 66. On Sundays, some worship at a clapboard church that anchors the genteel town square, outfitted with bronze cowboys and a giant Victrola that sprays water.
Jackson Hole--the Chinese version that is--is on the cusp of Hebei Province, where it meets the sprawling Beijing municipality. 

It's easy to chuckle and poke fun at the Chinese frontier "wannabes," but the story reminded me of this piece nearly a decade ago, out of Florida, which tapped into some similar sentiments, myths and--yes, cache--regarding the rural.  The headline is "In Florida, a Big Developer is Counting on Rural Chic," and Abby Goodnough's story tells of a new development in the Florida panhandle:
What is a striving Florida developer to do when most of its vast holdings are not beach chic but rural, remote and mosquitoey? 
The St. Joe Company, which owns 800,000 mostly inland acres here in the scrubby pine forests of the Panhandle, is invoking Thoreau. 
The company, Florida's largest private landowner, is pushing "new ruralism," a concept it hopes will entice city and suburban dwellers who are weary of civilization and long to own a tractor, a pickup truck, or at least a kayak and a few large dogs.
Goodnough reports that the homes in so called RiverCamps are "in a design proudly called 'Cracker Modern."  I cannot imagine what led St. Joe to appropriate the word "cracker" because of its long-standing negative associations with rurality and, indeed, with "white trash."  But what else could be behind the play on "cracker"?   The average price for a lot/site at RiverCamps is $342,900 just for the land.  Per acre prices are expected to be lower farther inland, at developments called Florida Ranches (150 acres, catering to hunters) and WhiteFence Farms (5- to 20-acre lots near fields and ponds where "farmhands" will be available to to help mow the meadow using the owner's tractor)

Goodnough characterizes these Florida developments as "corporate reinvention of new urbanism, an antisprawl movement that advocates compact, old-fashioned towns where residents can commune in parks, shops and restaurants within walking distance of their homes. Instead of connecting with neighbors, new ruralism promotes connecting with the land -- though these cabins in the woods come with wireless Internet access and porches with screens that unfurl by remote control."

All in all, what St. Joe did in Florida is not so different to the re-branding of rural and frontier in Jackson Hole, China--though the Jackson Hole brand is clearly different to the varieties of rural reflected in RiverCamps, WhiteFence Farms and Florida Ranches.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Former chief of Massey Energy guilty of just one misdemeanor in Upper Big Branch explosion

Here is the lede from Alan Blinder's report in today's New York Times:
Donald L. Blankenship, whose leadership of the Massey Energy Company was widely criticized after 29 workers were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010, was convicted Thursday of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, becoming the most prominent American coal executive ever convicted of a crime related to mining deaths. 
But in a substantial defeat for the Justice Department, the verdict, announced in Federal District Court here, exonerated Mr. Blankenship, Massey’s former chief executive, of three felony charges that could have led to a prison term of 30 years. Instead, after a long and complex trial that began on Oct. 1, jurors convicted Mr. Blankenship only of a single misdemeanor charge that carried a maximum of a year in prison.
Read more about the Upper Big Branch episode here, here, here, here and here.  Among other things, these prior posts discuss the 21-month sentence and $20,000 fine imposed on Gary May, the Upper Big Branch mine superintendent.  Blankenship will get off more lightly than that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Highlights and lowlights from the 7th Circuit's recent abortion decision

The Seventh Circuit decided a few weeks ago to strike as unconstitutional a Wisconsin law that required the state's abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.  The case is Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., v. Schimel.  Recall that the Fifth Circuit considered the same issue a few years ago, and upheld a similar Texas admitting privileges law, even though it closed about half of the state's 40 abortion clinics, leaving the only ones operational in major metropolitan areas in the northern and eastern parts of the state.  I have written about the Texas laws extensively here.  The Texas laws are the subject of a case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the Seventh Circuit case, Judge Posner wrote for the majority, with Judge Manion dissenting.  I have elsewhere railed against the failure of litigants and judges to discuss rural women in these cases--even more so the failure to discuss these vulnerable women with compassion for and understanding of their circumstances.  In this post, I simply want to highlight what the judges did and did not say about poverty, rurality and distance in relation to the undue burden standard.

First, the bad news--the words "rural" and "rurality" are nowhere to be found in the opinion.  The good news, however, is that Judge Posner did mention poor women (as he had in his earlier opinion granting a restraining order against the law's operation).  Regarding distance (and the relevance of abortion clinics across state lines), he wrote:
It’s also true, though according to the cases just quoted irrelevant, that a 90-mile trip is no big deal for persons who own a car or can afford an Amtrak or Greyhound ticket. But more than 50 percent of Wisconsin women seeking abortions have incomes below the federal poverty line and many of them live in Milwaukee (and some north or west of that city and so even farther away from Chicago). For them a round trip to Chicago, and finding a place to stay overnight in Chicago should they not feel up to an immediate return to Wisconsin after the abortion, may be prohibitively expensive. The State of Wisconsin is not offering to pick up the tab, or any part of it. These women may also be unable to take the time required for the round trip away from their work or the care of their children. The evidence at trial, credited by the district judge, was that 18 to 24 percent of women who would need to travel to Chicago or the surrounding area for an abortion would be unable to make the trip.
(emphasis added).  This is helpful in that it takes seriously the financial obstacles facing poor women, but given that clinic closures across the state are at stake, it is somewhat oddly focused on urban women--those in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.  Further, while the prior Posner opinion enjoining the law discussed the burden of distance on women in the northern part of the state--those served by the Appleton clinic--this opinion discusses the need for the Milwaukee clinic to expand to meet the state's needs if the Appleton clinic closes.  

In that earlier, December, 2013 opinion, Posner wrote of both poverty and the burden of distance, specifically for women in the less populous northern part the state:

Some patients will be unable to afford the longer trips they’ll have to make to obtain an abortion when the clinics near them shut down—60 percent of the clinics’ patients have incomes below the federal poverty line. One of the clinics that will close is Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Appleton, which, as shown in the accompanying map, is in the approximate center of the state. The remaining abortion clinics are in Madison or Milwaukee, about 100 miles south of Appleton. A woman who lives north of Appleton who wants an abortion may (unless she lives close to the Minnesota border with Wisconsin and not far from an abortion clinic in that state) have to travel up to an additional 100 miles each way to obtain it. And that is really 400 miles—a nontrivial burden on the financially strapped and others who have difficulty traveling long distances to obtain an abortion, such as those who already have children. For Wisconsin law requires two trips to the abortion clinic (the first for counseling and an ultrasound) with at least twenty-four hours between them. Wis. Stat. § 253.10(3)(c). When one abortion regulation compounds the effects of another, the aggregate effects on abortion rights must be considered.
(emphasis added).  Posner even included this nifty map, to the delight of the legal geographer in me:

But this recent November, 2015, opinion does not discuss the burden of distance on the women in northern Wisconsin if the Appleton clinic closes and those women must travel to Milwaukee for abortion services.  This seems odd in light of the attention given to distance in regard to the Milwaukee women. 

All in all, the Posner opinion from last month uses the word "distance" three times and the word "travel" just once.  Compare that to the dissent by Judge Manion, who uses the word "distance" three times and the word "travel" four times.  Here's a key excerpt from Manion's dissent, which relies heavily on the recent Fifth Circuit decisions:  
Chicago is approximately 93 miles from Milwaukee—or a one hour and forty minute drive. The Fifth Circuit recently held that Texas’s admitting-privileges law did not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose abortion because “travel of less than 150 miles for some women is not an undue burden under Casey.” Abbott II, 748 F.3d at 598 (citation omitted). Before Abbott II, the Sixth Circuit similarly concluded that there was no undue burden under Casey where one of two Ohio clinics to conduct 18–24 week abortions was closed due to lack of a transfer agreement with a local hospital, even when the remaining clinic was located over 200 miles away. See Baird, 438 F.3d at 599, 605. Consistent with these authorities, it is well within the scope of Newman to conclude that the 93-mile trip from Milwaukee to Chicago to obtain an abortion does not impose an undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose abortion. 305 F.3d at 688.
Also, I just came across this from Manion's opinion in the December, 2013, decision enjoining operation of the Wisconsin law: 
The number of women who seek abortions living in the areas near the closed clinics is apparently very small compared to those living near the clinics that will continue to operate. Thus, the admitting-privileges requirement likely only will compel a few rural women to drive longer distances. So it is far from clear that a “significant number” of women will be prevented from obtaining abortions.
This is the same numbers game the Fifth Circuit has been playing in declaring that the 17% of Texas's reproductive age women who are farther than 150 miles from an abortion provider do not constitute a "significant number."  That finding essentially renders these women--many of them rural women--constitutionally irrelevant in the context of a facial challenge to the laws' constitutionality.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The politics of the rural vote, in today's NYT

Two items in today's New York Times touch on the politics of the rural vote, though only one mentions "rural" explicitly.

First, the NYT reports here on Democrat John Bel Edwards win in the Louisiana gubernatorial race.  Noting that the Edwards win "defied political geography," Campbell Robertson describes Edwards, who handily defeated U.S. Senator David Vitter, thusly:
A more promising red state Democrat could hardly have been found than Mr. Edwards, a Catholic social conservative from a family of rural law enforcement officers who graduated from West Point and served eight years of active duty in the Army.
The other is this commentary by Alec MacGillis, "Who Turned my Blue State Red?" The subhead is "Why poor areas vote for politicians who want to slash the safety net," and in it MacGillis analyzes the politics of low-income people--even those who have used the social safety net in the past--voting Republican.  MacGillis sums up the tendency of liberals: 
The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.
MacGillis provides illustrations from rural places like Pineville, West Virginia (population 668) and Pike County, Kentucky (population 65,024).  Here's the first:
In Pineville, W.Va., in the state’s deeply depressed southern end, I watched in 2013 as a discussion with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, quickly turned from gun control to the area’s reliance on government benefits, its high rate of opiate addiction, and whether people on assistance should be tested for drugs. Playing to the room, Senator Manchin declared, “If you’re on a public check, you should be subjected to a random check.”
And here's the second:  
Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” ... “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.”
A local political consultant summed it up:
It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against [the Democrats.]  It’s everyone else.
This is reminiscent of what Jennifer Sherman observed in "Golden Valley" California in Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality and Family in Rural America.  In short, the "have a little" crowd turn up their noses toward--and vote against the interests of--the "have nots."

MacGillis describes the work of Professor Kathryn Edin to illustrate:
Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, found a tendency by many Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Professor Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ ”
This reminds me of Matt Wray's descriptions of intra-racial bias among whites, how even whites who are only slightly better off work to establish their distance and their distinction from those popularly thought of as "white trash."

Perhaps the saddest revelation in MacGillis's piece is that poor and low-income folks don't vote at the same rate as those with higher incomes.  A number of bar graphs depict this in highly accessible form.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Finding the balance between rural tourism and transforming the rural into urban enclaves.


At the root of the myriad challenges facing rural dwellers is an anemic economy.  Whether local economic activity is focused on a singular entity (factory farms, coal mines, or similar monolithic entities) or a hodgepodge of small service industries that limp along, a common theme for those struggling in rural locations is simply a lack of economic opportunity.  To an extent the lack of opportunity is understandable: without a large enough population, there simply isn't the impetus for massive economic development. Therefore, the industries that do exist in rural places are the primary employers--prisons, hog farms, and mines. 

Rather than turn to these dominating rural employers, there is an industry that may help alleviate economic underdevelopment.  Tourism.  And while tourism, like agribusiness or resource extraction, is not a magic bullet, it certainly has the potential to bring vital services and development to rural economies. 

Tourism and rural infrastructure

In some places, like Jackson Hole, Telluride, and other mountain towns in the Rockies, tourism fundamentally changed the character of rural areas.  Sometimes these changes altered the towns to no longer be rural--through an increase in population and infrastructure--to the extent that the towns can no longer be considered rural.  

In other rural locations, tourism is much more of an intermittent phenomenon. For example, Birdsville, Queensland, Australia.  Birdsville is a remote place in western Queensland at the edge of the Simpson Desert and about 1,000 miles from the state capital of Brisbane.  The population is approximately 115 people; of whom half are Indigenous Australians.  However the town receives approximately 45,000 visitors from April-October.   7,000 of those visitors come during one weekend in September for the Birdsville Races.  The remainder of the visitors are generally older Australians who are going around the country in RVs, or the occasional backpacker.   

However, this influx of seasonal tourism presents unique challenges for the rural environment.  Generally, services are already limited.  In Birdsville, there is a single police officer.  There is a court, but it lacks a resident magistrate.  Instead, court is convened on the weekend of the Birdsville races, over telephone with a judge from Townsville--located on the Queensland coast 832 miles away.  The school has one teacher and 5 enrolled students.  There is a local clinic, but if there are serious health issues, the best treatment option is a 1,000-mile flight to Brisbane.  By any definition, Birdsville is rural.  Its infrastructure is designed for 363days of quiet, and 2 days of massive tourism.  Such a planning process is not 

The town plans for the annual influx of visitors exceptionally early. Police officers are drafted in from other towns, such as Mt. Isa, 10 hours to the north. Foodstuff and beer inventories begin in March.  In 2010, the races were cancelled due to torrential rain; and the tourists were stranded for 2 days.  The town ran out of food (but not beer); and the last pack of cigarettes in town was auctioned off for $200.   With the exception of the dedicated tourism industry, most of Birdsville engages in agricultural enterprises.  Services, including access to food, are limited to what can be grown, flown in, and kept in extreme temperatures.  So while the Birdsville Races put the rural town on the map, and it is generally prosperous, the question seems to remain, is the tourism and preparation worth it?

Is there a balance?

In 2010, the State government of Alberta, Canada, commissioned a report on "Rural Tourism."  In it, rural tourism was primarily defined as, "the 'country experience' [with] opportunities for visitors to directly experience agricultural and/or natural environments."  And while focused primarily on agritourism, the report also includes "nature holidays and ecotourism, walking, climbing, and riding holidays, adventure, sport, and health tourism, hunting, angling, educational travel, arts, and heritage tourism, and in some areas, ethnic tourism [sic]."  The report acknowledges that rural towns essentially have two options: beef up infrastructure in the hopes of supporting year round tourism, or banking on annual events to fill town coffers, and eek out an existence for the remainder of the year. 

However, on a whole, the report finds that rural tourism is generally positive. As a form of economic development, the injection of outside cash is significant and allows for rural job creation, new business opportunities, increased infrastructure services, and increased land conservation (at least in places where ecotourism is prominent).  The report recognizes some of the problems with rural tourism--namely the seasonal nature, but seems to advocate for rural places up and down Canada to embrace their rural nature and follow in the successful footsteps of places like Ballyhoura in Ireland and the Trossachs in Scotland (places that relied on significant government grants, development agencies, and community involvement).  I wonder how a lot of rural communities would feel about increased outside government influence on their economy.


Birdsville may be an extreme example of rural tourism: a town of 115 that welcomes 7,000 for two days.  However, in rural towns--with populations of 2,000-3,000, the questions surrounding tourism are difficult to answer.  On one hand, tourism brings in money, allows for infrastructure expansion, and may provide for a more sustainable economic base (if not exactly diversified).  However, there are drawbacks.  Tourism can be notoriously fickle.  When trends change, the rural town that embraced tourism may be left thigh and dry.  And, taken to the extreme, encouraging tourism may lead to the fundamental destruction of the rural character of a place.  Rurality is partially defined by spatial distance and sparse population (among other things).  With the increased population and connectivity that tourism brings, what does that mean for rurality?  Does the tourist town simply become a pastiche of rural life? An island of prosperity shaped by urban notions of what rural should look like?

I have no idea what the right answer is for fostering economic development.  Every rural situation is different, and like agribusiness, mining, timber, or other traditional rural industries, tourism is not a magic bullet.  However, when developed thoughtfully, tourism can help boost local economies, and provide some semblance of economic stability. With the right event, a town can be on the map for one weekend a year and enjoy a sleepy, successful existence.  But generally, for tourism to be successful, the development should reflect the nature of the rural place, and embrace the complexities of the rural lifestyle--from farming to solitude.  Otherwise, tourism will simply make formerly rural places urban enclaves in the middle of nowhere.

For more on the urban corruption (or at least, exploitation) of the rural, read: this and this.
For more on agritourism, read: thisthis, and this.
For more on ecotourism, read: this and this.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Supreme Court will hear Texas abortion case, but no one is talking about rural women

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday accepted certiorari in the Cole case (previously Whole Women's Health v. Lakey) out of Texas, or more precisely, out of the Fifth Circuit.  Read more here and here. Adam Liptak of the New York Times provides context:
[I[t is the new abortion case, however it is decided, that is likely to produce the term’s most consequential and legally significant decision. Many states have been enacting restrictions that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and a ruling in the new case, from Texas, will enunciate principles that will apply in all of them.
Sadly, neither of these news reports mentions rural women, and thus neither grapples with spatiality/distance in any meaningful way.  An editorial in the NYTimes mentions poor women, but not rural ones.  My critical legal analysis here, however, grapples with both.  Would be nice to know someone is listening about the particular challenges facing rural women ... or, if not listening, considering the rural situation independent of my advocacy.

Seriously, what's up here?  Have "rural" folks become persona non grata?  Those who must not be named?  Or are the advocates discussing these issues of geography/spatiality/ in more nuanced ways?  The past is water under the bridge, but it would be so great if advocates actually started taking rural populations seriously when it comes to abortion access--and a number of other issues.

For more on neglect of the rural milieu, including stigma associated with rurality and poverty, see this and this, the latter specifically about legal neglect of rural populations in constitutional litigation.

A prior post (collecting sources and commentary) on rural abortion access is here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

"America's poorest white town: abandoned by coal, swallowed by drugs"

That is the headline for Chris McGreal's story in The Guardian yesterday, the first in a series "of dispatches from America's poorest communities."  The dateline is Beattyville, Kentucky, population 1,307, in nonmetropolitan Lee County.  Here's an excerpt:
Frontier communities steeped in the myth of self-reliance are now blighted by addiction to opioids – “hillbilly heroin” to those who use them. It’s a dependency bound up with economic despair and financed in part by the same welfare system that is staving off economic collapse across much of eastern Kentucky. It’s a crisis that crosses generations. 
* * * 
Beattyville sits at the northern tip of a belt of the most enduring rural poverty in America. The belt runs from eastern Kentucky through the Mississippi delta to the Texas border with Mexico, taking in two of the other towns – one overwhelmingly African American and the other exclusively Latino – at the bottom of the low income scale.
The story quotes Dee Davis, of the Center for Rural Strategies (publisher of the Daily Yonder), who grew up in Lee County:
There’s this feeling here like people are looking down on you. Feeling like it’s OK to laugh at you, to pity you. … We’re primed to react to people we think are looking down on us. That they judge us for our clothes, judge us for our car, judge us for our income, the way we talk.
This is the poorest congressional district in the United States. I grew up delivering furniture with my dad. No one ever said they were in poverty. That’s a word that’s used to judge people. You hear them say, I may be a poor man but we live a pretty good life for poor people. People refer to themselves as poor but they won’t refer to themselves as in poverty.
I have written about similar phenomena here and here and lots of other places, too.  I find Davis's differentiation between "poor" and "poverty" in self perception very interesting, and it really resonates with my own upbringing in a nonmetropolitan persistent poverty county in Arkansas.  A lot of seriously socioeconomically disadvantaged rural people don't see themselves as living in poverty, though many will acknowledge they are poor.

And, in what is essentially a paraphrase of a favorite adage among rural sociologists, "if you've seen one rural place, you've seen one rural place," McGreal writes:
The communities share common struggles in grappling with blighted histories and uncertain futures.  
* * *  
At the same time, each of the towns is distinguished by problems not common to the rest. In Beattyville it is the drug epidemic, which has not only destroyed lives but has come to redefine a town whose fleeting embrace of prosperity a generation ago is still visible in some of its grander official buildings and homes near the heart of the town.
I look forward to others in The Guardian series.  Another recent series on small-town poverty, this one by Scott Rodd, can be found on Think Progress, here (also about Beattyville, KY), here (Jamestown, Tennessee), here (Tchula, Mississippi) and here (Campti, Louisiana).  

A current MSNBC series on the Geography of Poverty is here, but the places featured are mostly metropolitan:  Flint, MI, Baton Rouge, LA, and Brownsville, TX.  The one exception is rural Fort Yates, ND, population 184, in Sioux County, home of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.     

California and the rural way of life: Part III - Gold dredging

This is the third installment in a series of posts that focus on some of the issues that rural Californians have with their state government (see here for Part I and links for other posts on this topic, and here for Part II).  Many rural Californians feel that they are not being represented at the state level. This post will focus on the issue of California's moratorium on gold dredging.

In July of 2009, California placed a moratorium on gold dredging statewide.  Gold dredging is when a machine is used to suck up dirt and rocks from the bottom of a streambed.  The water, dirt, rocks, and gold are then sent down a sluice box to separate the gold from the rest of the material (for more info about dredging, see here).  This moratorium was to remain in place until the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly California Department of Fish and Game) complied with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).  Dredging can only resume once an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is completed and the department adopts and implements new regulations that address the environmental impacts of gold dredging. 

The reason behind the moratorium is due to the fact that gold dredging disturbs streambeds.  This disturbance can supposedly harm fish and remobilize mercury pollution that was left over from the California gold rush of the mid 1800s (mercury was used to separate the gold from sand and gravel).  For more info about mercury in California, see article here.  According to Fisheries Biologist Peter Moyle of UC Davis, the impacts of suction dredging are not well understood.  However, Moyle states that gold dredging "represents a chronic unnatural disturbance of habitats supporting fish that are already likely to be stressed by other factors." For the entire article, see here.

Some people are drawn to gold dredging for its recreational value; others are drawn by the money they can make by selling the gold.  People are upset at the state government because of the moratorium for several reasons.  First, the moratorium could not have come at a worse time in regards to our economy.  The other reasons are due to a lack of consensus showing that the detrimental effects of gold dredging outweigh the positive effects.  

In 2008, the United States entered what is now called the Great Recession.  This economic downturn caused people to lose their jobs, their homes, and their life savings.  Many people were forced to find new and inventive ways to support their families.  Some people, including my own family, turned to gold dredging to supplement their incomes.  However, less than a year after the recession started, California thought it was a good idea to limit the earning potential of gold dredgers.  Money made from gold dredging, although not much compared with the other industries in the state, could have been used to stimulate local economies and help lessen the impact the recession had on the gold mining community.  The price of gold was hitting record highs, yet nobody could extract it in any meaningful way.  People could still pan for gold, but that technique is far less efficient at extracting gold. 

I attended a public hearing prior to the implementation of the moratorium, along with a packed house of gold dredgers and representatives from the California Department of Fish and Game.  It seemed as though every dredger in the place was upset and/or angry.  Most felt that nothing they said to the Fish and Game representatives was taken seriously.  Having been there myself, it seemed to me that the decision was already made and the "hearing" was just an attempt to placate the dredging community.  During this hearing, gold dredgers made a couple of valid arguments in opposition to the notion that dredging is harmful to the environment.  The first argument directly contradicted the theory that dredging causes the remobilization of mercury, which is then washed downstream, thus potentially harming humans.

The serious and avid dredgers were the first ones to talk about all of the mercury and lead they removed from the water.  The dredgers claimed that they had removed, in some cases, barrels of lead and mercury from their sluice boxes, and thus from the rivers.  The positive effects from the removal of these substances from the rivers could have been compared with the detrimental effects of the mercury and lead spread downstream.  However, the state decided to place a moratorium on dredging instead of allowing research to help guide their decision before implementing the ban.

Even if it were shown that dredging spreads mercury and lead downstream, natural events do the same thing.  Heavy rain and snowmelt cause rivers to swell.  The increase in the volume of water in these rivers and streams stir up sediment, remobilize mercury, lead, and gold, and can scour and dramatically change the river bottom.  However, the state didn't compare the effects of dredging against natural causes before enacting the moratorium.

California has salmon and steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout) that are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Part of the reason for the moratorium was to protect these species.  Dredging can destroy redds (basically fish nests) and kill the unhatched fish.  This is a significant problem.  California, however, has a multitude of dams that restrict salmon and steelhead migration upstream to their native spawning areas.  Much of the dredging occurs in areas above the dams where these fish can no longer reach.  This, too, was not taken into consideration when the moratorium was issued.

Not only can dredging harm the anadromous species (fish that live in the ocean and reproduce in fresh water), the activity can also harm native freshwater trout species. The redds of these species can easily be destroyed by a dredge.  However, stirring up the river beds can bring insects into the water and feed the fish.  I have seen this first hand.  Trout that are normally evasive will either hang out behind the sluice box to feed upon the insects that flow out from it or will hang out right in front of you and feed on insects a few inches from your face.  Once again, this was not taken into consideration by state regulators, or if it was, it was not given much weight.

The state could have taken a more tailored approach to the problems of dredging by limiting the moratorium for dredging below the dams (where the salmon and steelhead are), limited the ban during the times of the year between when the fish spawn and when the fish hatch, limited the size of dredges allowed, or a combination of all three.

Even though the moratorium is in effect, people continue to dredge.  Dredging is usually done in remote places and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, already stretched thin, lacks the resources to enforce the moratorium.  The dredging community has also come up with inventive ways to get around the moratorium.  In addition to high banking (water is pumped from the stream into a sluice box and gravel/dirt is shoveled into the box) and electronic prospecting (metal detector is used to locate gold), they have started to use "underwater blow mining" to find gold.  Blow mining uses a stream of water to stir up the bottom or in crevices to clear material out of the way, leaving the gold behind.  For more info about different dredging/extracting techniques, see here.

Many people feel that this moratorium was due to lobbying by environmental groups with very little attention to any positive consequences of dredging (due to lack of research or understanding in the scientific community).  The gold dredging community has not taken this sitting down.  This issue is on it's way to the Appellate Court of the Third Appellate District of California.  The gold dredgers have challenged the moratorium under a federal preemption argument (see here).  If California had just considered the social effects of the moratorium before enacting a one size fits all moratorium, the people would not have had to rely on the courts to have their voices heard.

In the next post, I will discuss ways that California (and other states) can tackle the lack of rural representation in state policy decisions.  This problem can possibly be resolved in one of three ways.  One idea comes from Arizona, one from Australia, and one from the proponents of Jefferson State.

For more posts on gold and gold dredging, see here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Are high suicide rates in rural America linked to high death rates among working-class whites?

The New York Times reported last week on high and rising suicide rates in rural and small-town America. Laura Beil's story, based on a study published in the May issue of JAMA Pediatrics, emphasized, to some extent, the young.  She reports that rural adolescents commit suicide at about twice the rate of urban adolescents.  Beil notes that "imbalances between city and country have long persisted," and quotes Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University, the study's lead author:
We weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time.  The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.
But Beil also talked about older cohorts of rural residents:
Suicide is a threat not just to the young. Rates over all rose 7 percent in metropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In rural counties, the increase was 20 percent. 
The problem reaches across demographic boundaries, encompassing such groups as older men, Native Americans and veterans. The sons and daughters of small towns are more likely to serve in the military, and nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in rural communities.
The Sacramento Bee subsequently ran this story about suicide rates by county in California.  It shows a similar trend toward higher rates in nonmetropolitan counties.

On the same day as the NYT story on rural suicides, the paper also covered this story, which has received a lot more attention in the ensuing period:  the release of the Deaton-Case study on life expectancy, reported under the headline "Death Rate Rising for Middle-Age White Americans, Study Finds."  The NYT did not seem to link these two--at least not explicitly--but to me they seemed obviously related.

Here's the lede for the latter story:
Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling. 
* * * 
Analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from other sources, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abusealcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.
* * * 
In contrast, the death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continued to decline during the same period, as did death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups. 
Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites — 581 per 100,000, compared with 415 for whites — but the gap is closing, and the rate for middle-aged Hispanics is far lower than for middle-aged whites at 262 per 100,000.
First, let us be clear that this study is not about middle-aged whites generally.  It is about middle aged, working class whites--those with no more than a high school education.  Between 1999 and 2014, their death rate increased by 134 deaths per 100,000.  According to commentary, this is a shift of considerable magnitude.  Many are speculating about the "why" behind this data.  Dr. Deaton said he "envisions poorly educated middle-aged white Americans who feel socially isolated are out of work, suffering from chronic pain and turning to narcotics or alcohol for relief, or taking their own lives."

So, what do the two news stories have to do with each other?  I suspect that a higher rate per capita of working class whites plagued by these health problems are living in rural America--or at least a disproportionate share of those who succumb to suicide or overdoses likely are.  Certainly the heroin and opioid epidemics have been associated with nonmetropolitan areas, though they are by no means exclusively rural phenomena.  See more here and here.  Further, the first story (the one focusing on rural suicides) suggests that rural Americans--no doubt including many middle age, working class white ones, some of whom are veterans (see more about rural veterans service access issues herehere and here)--are without adequate mental health resources, meaning they are more likely to succumb to drug abuse, alcoholism, and other problems associated with early mortality among this demographic slice.  We should think not only about the public health problem of a spiking death rate among working class whites, we should think about how to improve service provision and access to rural Americans.

See stories related to the Deaton-Case study here and here and commentary on the study herehereherehereherehere, hereherehere, and here.