Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A mixed vignette of a rural school in the Black belt

The vignette comes from an NPR story titled "One Student Tries to Help Others Escape a "Corridor of Shame," reported by Anya Kamenetz.  The story features much to comment on, but I will focus only on the the description of the place where it is set and the political (funding) consequences of that situation:  North, S.C., and the "one-story brick campus" of North Middle/High School, "nestled among mobile homes covered with red roses."  
The population of these counties is overwhelmingly poor, rural and 88 percent minority — compared with a state average of 48 percent. 
The schools here are chronically underfunded, so badly that it constitutes a violation of law. That was the finding of the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2014, after a lawsuit that dragged on for 21 years. But still, the state has done little to address the inequities. The Legislature is currently considering a review of facilities for districts named in the case, to address what Superintendent Washington calls a "dire need" for upgrades. 
North Middle/High School reports a four-year high school graduation rate of 85 percent. But only 10 percent of students who took the ACT met college-ready benchmarks in English, and only 2.5 percent in math.
This confirms what I have often suspected about rural schools:  the graduation rates are higher than would be justified by objective metrics of students' ability.  In short, many students are "graduated" just to get the out of educators' way.  Further, while state legislators dally about fixing such problems--even those declared of constitutional magnitude--youth continue to be dramatically disserved by their school systems.    

North, population 754, by the way, is in Orangeburg County, population 92,501, 62% African American, with a poverty rate of 30.8%.    

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Metro centricity in media attitudes about the Newton County hog CAFO

A few days ago I posted here the op-ed I co-authored about the Newton County hog CAFO, which has been the topic of numerous posts over the past three years or so.  Now I want to share two other items regarding the hog CAFO and how the only state-wide newspaper in Arkansas, the Democrat-Gazette, has covered it.  After I submitted my Op-Ed but before the Democrat-Gazette ran it, the editorial board ran this editorial, "About those hog farms" on May 18.  
He says, she says, they all say, over and over again. Isn't this where we came in? This grand but not so glorious hog-tussle has to be the state's longest-running bore. It's been going on since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, with the usual sides taking their usual positions on the not-so-great Hog Farm Question:

Shall we allow such operations to pollute/enhance the beautiful Buffalo River watershed? Pity the state's poor Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is always expected to referee this match that's been in overtime for approximately forever?

"Recent data on hog farm raise dust-up" read the headline in last Sunday's paper, which really ought to be kept in type. For it never seems to go out of date. But here's a way out of this nigh-eternal question: Why not lock both sides up in the same room and let 'em have at it? While the rest of us step out for a beer and never return?

It's a conceit of Cartesian man that science never changes, but the scientists certainly do. And despite their reputation for impartial analysis, they can get mighty personal about it, with one school taking on its opposite or maybe all comers. Who needs it? It's all as useful as hogwash.
Needless to say, I was not impressed.  What?  the only statewide newspaper punts on the science?  I guess they are also climate change deniers.  A colleague who is a journalism professional said--after I forwarded this to her for her assessment--that she thought she was reading satire until she was well into it.  For me, the real clincher on that point is the flippant suggestion that a 6500-hog industrial farm might "enhance" the Buffalo River.

In any event, I kept my mouth shut until I was able to get my own op-ed published (might the editors have run their absurd editorial in order to undermine my op-ed, which they had already decided to publish a few days later) but then was delighted to see this Letter to the Editor respond to the Democrat-Gazette editorial.  It is from Gordon Watkins of Parthenon, which is in Newton County, Arkansas, home to the infamous hog CAFO:
It's well-known that journalists are trained to be skeptical, but two recent editorials about the hog factory in Mount Judea reveal a flippancy and lack of sensitivity that does not serve the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette well.

"About those hog farms" and "No more hog farms" bemoan the ongoing controversy about the risk to our Natural State's most iconic natural treasure, the Buffalo River, characterizing further discussion about impending pollution as tedious, boring, and useless. It would almost seem that the editorial writers have not visited the Buffalo and lack an understanding of its importance to our distant corner of the state.
If more local landmarks like the Clinton Library, Oaklawn, or Riverfront Park were under threat of destruction, would they be so glib and insensitive? If Central High was on a path to be condemned to the wrecking ball, would they be so dismissive?

At some point, we all will feel a threat to someone or something we hold precious, and that threat will be real and palpable, and perhaps ongoing. In those moments, imagine hearing the words uttered by the Democrat-Gazette--"we're sick and tired of the whole subject, distraction and sideshow. Enough!"--and you get a sense of how callous, disappointing and even childish this position is from our state's most prominent newspaper.
The Letter ran under the heading, "Disappointing stance," and ran on March 23, 2016, the same day that my op-ed ran.

One of my favorite aspects of the Letter is that it essentially calls out the Democrat-Gazette for its metro-centricity--the Clinton Library, Little Rock Central High, and Waterfront Park all matter because they are in "the city," but the Buffalo River doesn't because it's in the rural northwest part of the state, what Watkins calls a "distant corner."  Disappointing, indeed.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

PBS on the rural lawyer shortage

Connie Cargbo and Christopher Booker report from South Dakota under the headline, "How South Dakota is Luring Attorneys to Remote Areas."  An excerpt follows:
Across the country rural communities are experiencing a shortage in the number of legal professionals so in 2013, South Dakota responded. The Midwestern state, where 65 percent of its attorneys are located in just four cities, launched a recruitment program. The goal — to attract attorneys to live and work in a rural county in South Dakota for five years with a cash incentive of $12,500 a year. 
The program was championed by the Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, David Gilbertson. In a State of the Judiciary message, he cautioned against “the very real possibility of whole sections of this state being without access to legal services,” creating an area with “islands of justice in a rural sea of justice denied.” 
For rural communities without a lawyer nearby, everyday issues such as taxes or real estate transactions become hardships. With few options, more and more of these small towns are having to pay lawyers to drive in to their towns to provide legal advice, stretching their budgets.
I have written about the South Dakota program here and about the rural lawyer shortage more generally here

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interesting characterization of wilderness as "impermeable"

Today's New York Times features the story of the death three years ago of a 66-year-old hiker on the Appalachian Trail.  Geraldine Largay wandered off the trail at around the New Hampshire/Maine state line.  In spite of a massive search effort at the time, she was not found until last year.  Based on her journal entries, she is thought to have survived about a month before succumbing to exposure and lack of nutrition.

One thing I find interesting about this story--and the primary reason I am writing about it here--is the characterization of the terrain where she was lost:
...vanished in late July 2013, the authorities sent helicopters, horses and up to 130 searchers to comb dozens of miles of briary, thick woods. The search was intense but fruitless, and rescue efforts were scaled back in early August. It baffled the Maine Warden Service, an agency that knew the woods and was experienced in finding people who were lost.
* * *
Rescuers have said they believe they came maddeningly close to Ms. Largay — perhaps as near as 100 yards — but, in Maine’s impermeable forests, even that distance might as well be miles away. 
* * *  
Ms. Largay’s remains were found last October, about 3,000 yards away from the trail, in a private area the military uses for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.
What is interesting to me is how the woods--wilderness--could obscure Ms. Largay from those seeking to rescue her--even when they were as close to her as from one end of a football field to the other.

I have argued in academic settings that rural spatiality--including wilderness and its component parts, e.g., trees and shrubs, obscure and conceal, impeding the efforts of law enforcement and rendering people in these settings vulnerable.  Yet this is a topic on which I get a great deal of "pushback" from other academics, who seem unable to understand this concept, or to acknowledge that technology (and essentially "time"/progress) cannot always trump spatiality.  Here is another example of law/the state's failure in that regard, even when the search covered a relatively small area.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My op-ed on the hog CAFO in the Buffalo National River watershed

This ran on Monday, May 23, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the headline, "For public health, governor must act to save river." 

Everyone loves the Buffalo National River, and everyone supports caring for this Arkansas treasure. Opinions vary sharply, however, on what such care requires.

An industrial hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed currently threatens the destruction of the state's most iconic natural resource and risks a public health crisis in one of Arkansas' most impoverished places. Gov. Asa Hutchinson must act now to prevent further damage to the Buffalo and to protect those living in its watershed. He can do so by ordering subsurface drilling to determine definitively the presence of swine-waste contamination.

The Buffalo has been called Arkansas' gift to the nation, and all of us are stakeholders in this national park. But some communities have more at stake than others. The Buffalo flows primarily through Newton and Searcy counties, two of the poorest in the state and, indeed, the nation. In its 2012 authorization of the concentrated animal feeding operation on Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality failed to acknowledge the depth and persistence of poverty in these Ozarks highlands counties. This poverty, as well as lack of meaningful notice of the permit application, made the siting of the 6,500-hog operation--just across Big Creek from Mount Judea School--a textbook example of environmental injustice. Concerned citizens have since pushed for close governmental oversight of the CAFO.

Now, evidence presented to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission in April indicates a "possible fracture and major movement of waste" beneath the CAFO's swine waste lagoons. This evidence is from Dr. Todd Halihan, an Oklahoma State University geologist with whom the Big Creek Research and Extension Team contracted to perform "non-invasive subsurface ... visualization." The Big Creek team receives state funds to monitor the CAFO's environmental impact, yet when Halihan's investigation suggested swine waste in the groundwater, it did not disclose it. Halihan's research saw the light of day only though Freedom of Information requests.

Halihan's findings demand a program of subsurface drilling to assess with certainty what is happening to the groundwater. The underground channels and conduits characteristic of the porous karst there can quickly transport E. coli, nitrates, and other toxins far and wide. If swine waste is reaching the groundwater, the health of area residents--many of whom rely on well water--is threatened.

Meanwhile, the CAFO is also undermining the region's economic well-being. The operation's owners initially promised to create local jobs and generate property-tax revenue, but the CAFO has done precious little of either. It pays just $7,000 in annual property taxes and, according to the CAFO owners, has created only eight jobs. Further, by undermining the health of the Buffalo itself, the CAFO is threatening the $56.6 million that ecotourism visitors spend annually, which generates nearly 900 jobs in gateway communities plus substantial sales-tax revenue.

Three years after the CAFO began operating, mounting evidence indicates that it is severely damaging the Buffalo. In addition to the threat of groundwater contamination, the swine-waste application fields along Big Creek are at "above optimum" levels of phosphorus, according to University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension soil tests. Storms churn up and release phosphorus-laden clay as turbidity into the Buffalo.

If the governor visited the confluence of Big Creek with the Buffalo, he would see the damage firsthand, visible as it is to the naked eye. Yet the Department of Environmental Quality appears to be in denial about this devastation, turning a blind eye to all data except that generated by the Big Creek team. But the team has a conflict of interest because it also consults with the CAFO on issues of sustainability. This conflict is well-illustrated by the team's failure to make timely disclosure of Halihan's troubling findings. In refusing to collaborate with those who should be natural allies in stewardship of the Buffalo, the state ignores available, objective scientific data that paint a more complete picture of the damage wrought by the CAFO.

Governor Hutchinson must act now to ensure the well-being of the Buffalo River watershed and its residents. No less than with Flint, Michigan's water crisis, the health of highly vulnerable citizens is at stake, and a governor has the power to protect them. In Arkansas' case, an executive order mandating a program of investigative drilling would kill the proverbial two birds with one stone, also helping prevent further ruination of a wilderness gem.

In his comments to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission last month, former Congressman Ed Bethune cautioned, "if we turn out to be the people who have to report to the world that there's hog doin's in the Buffalo, it's going to be a sad day for Arkansas."

It will be an even sadder day if the governor's failure to investigate creates a public health crisis in the watershed.
* * *

My co-author was Marti Olesen, a 26-year resident of Newton County and a retired public school media specialist.

For more on the science at issue with respect to the hog farm and Dr. Hallihan's work, KUAF's Ozarks at Large series filed this excellent story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More metrocentric reporting on constitutional rights, this time voter ID laws

This headline in the Washington Post a few days ago got my back up for overlooking what, to me, is obvious:  rural voters are disadvantaged by voter ID laws because they typically have longer distances to travel to get the required voter ID, usually available only from a state agency such as a bureau/department of motor vehicles.  The headline is "Getting a Photo ID So You Can Vote is Easy.  Unless You're Poor, Black, Latino, or Elderly."  Not only does the story not use either "rural" or "distance," it illustrates the hassles of getting a photo ID with an urban example, shared by a Houston lawyer:  
“I hear from people nearly weekly who can’t get an ID either because of poverty, transportation issues or because of the government’s incompetence,” said Chad W. Dunn, a lawyer with Brazil & Dunn in Houston, who has specialized in voting rights work for 15 years.

“Sometimes government officials don’t know what the law requires,” Dunn said. “People take a day off work to go down to get the so-called free birth certificates. People who are poor, with no car and no Internet access, get up, take the bus, transfer a couple of times, stand in line for an hour and then are told they don’t have the right documents or it will cost them money they don’t have.” 
“A lot of them just give up,” Dunn said.
About the only acknowledgement I've seen of the burden of distance in relation to the recent (in the last decade or so) proliferation of voter ID laws was by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October, 2014.  In dissenting then from the Supreme Court's summary affirmation of the Fifth Circuit in Veasey v. Perry, she observed that some 400,000 eligible Texas voters “face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest DPS office.” Even the plaintiffs/voter rights groups don't seem to be talking about this issue in their briefs.

It's not clear if the media are taking their cues from the courts, or vice versa, but I have complained in this forum previously about how the media are now talking about access to abortion in Texas--nearly three years after the passage of Texas H.B. 2.  They are talking principally about the challenges faced by urban women, as in this recent piece, which I wrote about here.  (Read more at the abortion label/tag)

I've taken to Tweeting about this oversight whenever I get a chance, and today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is helping litigation the constitutionality of Texas's voter ID law this week, re-Tweeted and "Liked" my Tweets on this subject.  Will it stick with those who make the decisions on how to litigate these cases?  I'll believe it when I see it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A political and social vignette from rural Virginia

Here is Mary Jordan's story in today's Washington Post, "A Village Named Syria in the Heart of Virginia Explains Why Many Will Vote for Trump."  The dateline is Syria, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It suggests a great deal of bias against Muslims in places like this tiny one in Madison County, population 13,308.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

West Virginia politics, in the news

First the severe beating taken by a candidate for West Virginia state senate made the news here and here.  Richard Ojeda, 45, and a retired U.S. Army Major, was beaten by Jonathan Porter.  Interestingly, the two had known each other since they were children.  Ojeda went on to win the Democratic primary, defeating a one-term incumbent by a 2K vote margin with out 20K votes cast.   This excerpt is about a Washington Post story regarding the events:
The suspect ...  allegedly arrived uninvited at a cookout, asked Ojeda to place bumper stickers on his truck and then attacked the candidate after luring him away. 
Porter surrendered after hiding in a mountain area for six hours, and was charged with malicious assault, police said. 
Authorities have not revealed a motive for the attack, but Ojeda alleged it was politically motivated vengeance for him challenging the state’s political establishment.
The New York Times report of Ojeda's beating offered this characterization:
[Ojeda's] platform opposes what he describes as the state government’s political nepotism, corruption and misuse of government funds. 
“We don’t have transparency in Logan County,” Mr. Ojeda said. “If you work in the coal industry and you asked a question to any of these people, you would find yourself laid off.” 
Mr. Ojeda noted that the attack came hours after he had published photographs of a document that he had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showing his opponent was a paid consultant for the county. 
Mr. Ojeda had written:  
These are usually things that the elected officials don’t want the citizens to see!” Well ... come Tuesday, remember how my opponent has been charging the Logan County commission a consulting fee for years to the tune of $2,500.00 a month.
Then, the Washington Post ran this feature a few days ago on Jim Justice, the Democratic nominee for governor of West Virginia.  The headline is "West Virginia Governor Hopeful Has Left a Trail of Unpaid Fines and Bills."  Here's an excerpt from  Steve Mufson's story, which ran in the business pages:  
Jim Justice — a colorful 65-year-old coal-mining baron and owner of the famed 710-room Greenbrier hotel — solidly defeated two rivals this month to win the Democratic primary for governor, putting him on a path to likely victory in November, according to polls. Justice, who has never held office, spent lavishly on his campaign, including an election-night party at the Greenbrier featuring ham biscuits and shrimp cocktails. In a state that has lost almost half its 42,600 mining jobs over the past year, Justice has vowed to create jobs and bring mining back.
Justice, whose wealth Forbes magazine puts at $1.6 billion, was formerly a Republican.  He is said to have left a trail of "unpaid fines to federal coal regulators, unpaid bills to suppliers, and unpaid taxes to state and local governments throughout the region"--all said to total millions.  The reporter quotes the clerk of Harlan County, Kentucky (home of Justified) who says one of Justice's companies, Sequoia Energy, owes the county more than $650K in back taxes.  

All of this information and the image it creates was already reminding me of Trump, and then I read this segment  quoting West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley, referring specifically to Justice's purchase of the Greenbriar:
West Virginians, most of whom couldn’t afford to stay there, saw it as something that stood out and was positive.  
Mufson continues with more descriptions that, for me, are evocative of Trump--and at the end, expressly making the Justice-Trump comparison:
A campaign ad shows him in a hard hat telling a group of miners: “I believe in coal, guys. I really believe in coal.” The ad ends with an off-screen voice saying, “We need a coal man running this state.”
* * * 
In June of last year, Justice made a splash in West Virginia by saying he would hire about 200 miners at two sites in West Virginia. But around the same time, Justice closed two other sites in Virginia’s Tazewell County. 
“Like Donald Trump, he’s promised to bring coal-mining jobs back to West Virginia,” said McGinley, the law professor. And while that was unlikely, he said “people would like to believe those jobs are coming back, so they’re willing to place their faith in somebody who makes a promise of that kind.”
Meanwhile, speaking of coal, The Daily Yonder ran this today regarding an initiative for a just transition from a coal economy in Appalachia:  "A Homestead Act for Appalachia. To restore Appalachia, reconnect the region's greatest resources -- land and people. There's no better time than the present."

Fewer small businesses per capita in small towns

Read more here in the Washington Post:
Americans in small towns and rural communities are dramatically less likely to start new businesses than they have been in the past, an unprecedented trend that jeopardizes the economic future of vast swaths of the country.
After all, how many pictures have you seen of the downtowns of small towns, with lots/most shops boarded up?  Depressing stuff.  No wonder much of rural America is experiencing population loss.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rural refugees of climate change: from Louisiana to India

The New York Times reported last week about "Resettling the First American Climate Refugees," and since those climate refugees are in rural, coastal Louisiana, I was planning to blog about them but hadn't got around to it when NPR ran this series this week on climate refugees in rural, coastal India, in an area called the Sundarbans.  I found striking the similarities between the two places and their residents, including the attachment to place that motivate many to stay, in spite of perils.

The Louisiana story, by Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson, dateline Isle de Jean Charles, describes Department of Housing and Urban Development grants worth $1 billion going to 13 states to help with climate change adaptation.  Some $48 million is going to Isle de Jean Charles to move the entire community to drier land--to a community that does not yet exist.  All funds must be spent by 2022.

Most of the 60 residents of Isle de Jean Charles are American Indian, and Davenport and Robertson describe their recent history, as impacted by climate change:
For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.
* * *
Attachment to the island runs deep. Parents and grandparents lived here; there is a cemetery on the island that no one wants to abandon. Old and well-earned distrust of the government hangs over all efforts, and a bitter dispute between the two Indian tribes with members on the island has thwarted efforts to unite behind a plan.
The chief of one tribe, Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw is quoted:
We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture. It’s all going to be history.
The caption to a photo of a man named Hilton Chaisson includes this quote from him:
I’ve lived my whole life here, and I’m going to die here.
Chaisson has raised 10 sons on the island and says he hopes his 26 grandchildren will also grow up there.
The Robertson/Davenport story is well worth a read in its entirety, along with this NPR story on the same events, elaborating on the American Indian distrust of the federal government.

And as for the NPR story, Ari Shapiro explains that humans (4 million of them) and Bengal tigers (numbering about 200) compete for the diminishing land area in this place, which means "beautiful forest," referring to the largest mangrove forest in the world.   There, too, long-time village residents talk about their attachment to place, even as they acknowledge the perils of village living--amidst tigers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On the bathroom wars ... Is this a "rural story," or not?

The New York Times Anemona Hartocolis reported yesterday from Chester, Vermont under the headline, "Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at Vermont High School."  I decided to pick up this news story here because the journalist suggests that the "rural" nature of the high school has something to do with how events there have played out.  Chester's population is 3,154.  Here is an excerpt from the story: 
The way A J Jackson tells it, he kept his head ducked down and pretended to fiddle with his cellphone as he walked into the boys’ bathroom and headed for a stall at Green Mountain Union High School here. 
But the way some of his classmates see it, A J was still Autumn Jackson, a girl in boys’ clothing, who had violated an intimate sanctum, while two boys were standing at a urinal, their private parts exposed. 
One 15-year-old male student was quoted:
It’s like me going into a girls’ bathroom wearing a wig.  It’s just weird.
Hartcolis describes Green Mountain Union High--with 300 students grades 7-12--"like much of the country ... with teenagers carrying out a proxy culture war for their parents."
More broadly, the issue here has pitted resident against resident, often along social and economic lines. This is a place where big-city transplants wearing Birkenstocks and artsy jewelry mingle with working-class people in dirt-encrusted boots who know how to handle a shotgun and proudly inhabit the homes of their ancestors. Despite Vermont’s image as a place of bucolic egalitarianism, home of the avowedly socialist candidate for president, tensions over privilege and tradition simmer just under the surface, and the bathroom wars have brought them to the fore.
Hartcolis quotes Deb Brown, a member of the Board of Green Mountain Union High School for a characteristic associate with rural places, "society does not change on a dime, especially small town society."  The journalist notes that Brown's daughter was previously on a girls' sports team with AJ, again highlighting the lack of anonymity and personal relationships that mark rural communities.

Are "rural" places--even in progressive New England--less tolerant of sexual minorities?  Or could the same story be written about a Vermont "city" (of which there are not many, of course).  Read more on the rural-urban divide in relation to LGBTQ rights here.

P.S.  Several days after this post, the New York Times ran this story about how transgender Americans' "personal battle became a national showdown."  In it, they describe the man who is spearheading the litigation against bathroom choice.
In rural north-central Florida, a retired veterinarian and cattle rancher named Harrell Phillips was alarmed one evening in March, when his 17-year-old son reported over dinner that he had encountered a transgender boy in the high school bathroom.

“I marched myself down to the principal,” said Dr. Phillips, who believes that “you are born into a sex that God chose you to be.”
Dr. Phillips, who has vowed to take his fight to the Supreme Court, lives in Morriston, Florida, population 164.  Morriston is in Levy County, population 40,801.    

This story, too, has me wondering about the correlation between "rural" and "bathroom panic," though until someone proves to the contrary, I'm going to assume that even if there's a correlation, there's no causation--flowing either way--between the two factors.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Earnings bias against rural folks, even after they move to the city

A UK study that is garnering attention on social media today suggests that those who grow up in rural places continue to be burdened or otherwise stigmatized by that upbringing, even after they have moved to a town or city.  The study's author was Dr. Martin Culliney, of Sheffield Hallam University, who tracked the income of nearly 1600 people from 1991 'til 2009.  Those studied were between 15 and 24 years of age at the beginning of the study and up to age 42 at the end. Here's an excerpt describing the "pay penalty that exists into adulthood":  
People who grow up in rural areas earn less than their urban equivalents even after they move to towns and cities for work, research says.

* * *
[Culliney] found that in 2008/9, the net take-home pay for those living in rural areas was around £900 less a year than those living in towns and cities. 
Even when people who grew up in rural areas later began working in towns and cities, the net take-home pay for full-time workers stayed less than for those who had grown up in urban areas.
* * * 
In 2008/9 the best paid were those who had started off in a town or city and then moved to a rural area – their net take-home pay was around £23,400 a year for those working full-time. 
Those who stayed in rural areas or moved from rural to urban areas had the lowest net take-home pay, around £14,400 to £18,400 a year for full-time workers. 
"Young people who remain in rural locations earn less money than their urban peers," said Dr Culliney. There were fewer jobs and a limited range of careers in rural areas, he said. 
Those who were prepared to move to towns and cities earned more than those who stayed in rural areas, but less than those brought up in urban areas, he said. 
"Simply being of rural origin brought respondents less pay across the whole 18-year observation window." 
He said that the findings could be interpreted as "conveying a rather fatalistic message" that young people suffered a "pay penalty into adulthood" even if they relocated to towns and cities. However, this was reduced if they moved to urban areas to work.
This all reminds me of the anti-rural bias in college admissions that Ross Douthat reported a few years ago in the New York Times.  Read my analysis of it here and here.

I also recall coming across a 1996 report from Mississippi State University called "The Social Cost of Growing-Up in Rural America:  Rural Development and Social Change in the Twentieth Century."  The lead author is Frank M. Howell, with Yuk-Ying Tung and Cynthia Wade-Harper.  Here are a couple of lines from the abstract:
This report examines the extent and process by which rural origins may affect socioeconomic attainments in adulthood and how these "costs" have changed during this century.  Introductory sections review research and theories of rural differentiation and stratification and the history of major federal policy initiatives of rural development. 
* * * 
[E]ducation is a conduit by which rural origins influence occupational status.  However, family income continued to show rural-associated deficits, especially for rural non-farm residents.  The model suggests that reduced expectations of family and friends influence the educational planning and eventual status attainment of rural youth.  
Also of possible relevance is this Brookings Institute study which found that college degrees are less valuable for those who were raised poor.  This suggests the habits or folkways acquired by those raised in socioeconomically disadvantaged situations -- in a sense, poor culture--holds them back when they move into more upscale milieu.

Friday, May 13, 2016

An update on a story about rural development and immigration policy

More than three years ago, I wrote this post about a proposed ski resort in Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom," on the Canadian border.  The $865 million investment was funded in part by would-be immigrants who, by investing at least $500K in an American business (if the business is in a rural locale or one with high unemployment; otherwise it is $1 million), can gain permanent residency in the United States.

In any event, those held out as the heroic developers in the prior story, are depicted quite differently in this story, also by Katharine Q. Seelye.    She reports that the developers, William Stegner and Ariel Quiros, have been accused of the biggest fraud in both Vermont history and the history of the relevant immigration program:  EB-5.  The $350 million Stegner and Quiros raised from foreign investors (representing 74 different countries!)who got the EB-5 visas is said, according to the complaints by the SEC, to have "used a “Ponzi-like” scheme to divert $200 million intended for future projects into a dizzying swirl of fraudulent accounts set up to try to keep earlier projects afloat."

Not only have the two left the immigration status of their investors in doubt--and many of those investors are already in the United States...
they have left the promise of a revitalized Newport unfulfilled, having failed to rebuild the “renaissance” block on Main Street, the biotech firm and a hotel, marina and conference center.
Seelye also addresses the fact that Mr. Stenger was a local--and in a place as small as Newport, that suggests the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities:
The allegations against Mr. Stenger particularly stung people here because they had known him for decades as a friend and civic-minded neighbor. He was not accused of siphoning money for his personal use, but the S.E.C. said he “extremely recklessly ceded control of investor funds to Quiros” and “did almost nothing to manage investor money, even when confronted with red flags of Quiros’ misuse.”
 Stegner maintains that, in spite of the projects' failures, they have created--directly or indirectly--6500 of the promised 10,000 jobs for "rural Orleans County, the poorest in the state."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is access to justice a greater challenge in rural states?

This story from yesterday's National Law Journal suggests rural states may be doing a poorer job at providing access to justice for low-income residents.  The headline is, "Access to Justice Best in D.C., Massachusetts, worst in Mississippi and Wyoming."  Karen Sloan reports:
[The National Center for Access to Justice]'s Justice Index www.justiceindex.org evaluates each state according to the number of civil legal aid attorneys for the poor, the availability of resources for people representing themselves in legal matters, and assistance for non-English speakers and the disabled.
* * *
In addition to Washington and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland and Connecticut made up the index’s five top-ranked-states. Mississippi and Wyoming had the two lowest scores, followed by Nevada, South Dakota and Indiana. Mississippi had particularly low scores in language access and resources for people representing themselves.
The data appears to reflect a trend across the rural-urban axis, with the exception, perhaps, of Hawaii, which has large rural segments but good ATJ, and Indiana, which is not as "rural" as Mississippi, South Dakota or Wyoming.  Nevada, too, has a couple of significant metro areas.

The story does briefly mention the challenge of spatiality and low population density:
The District of Columbia’s top ranking is due primarily to a “considerably” higher ratio of civil legal aid attorneys than any other jurisdiction, the index notes. It has both the highest population density and the highest per-capita attorney population. “The extreme differences in density of people raise interesting questions about the distribution of civil legal aid services between urban and rural areas,” according to the index website.
My own work on access to justice challenges in rural locales can be found here and here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wildfire turns on "urban" Fort McMurray, in western Canada

The Canadian wildfire that began in the boreal forest, in the midst of the tar sands regions, has been raging for several days now, driving evacuation of all of Fort McMurray, population 80K.  One of the best stories I've read about the natural disaster was in the New York Times today, "Fort McMurray, a Canadian Oil Boom Town, Is Left in Ashes."   What I like about this story--as a ruralist--is that it puts the situation of Fort McMurray in economic context:
Fort McMurray, or Fort Make Money, as some Canadians nicknamed it during its recent boom years, was the kind of place where second chances and fat paychecks beckoned. 
Those who settled there were trained engineers, refugees from war-torn countries and strivers from across Canada and beyond, drawn to a dot on the map in northern Alberta, a city carved out of boreal forest in a region gushing with oil riches. 
Even after the price of crude began to collapse in late 2014, erasing thousands of jobs, many residents managed to hang on, tightening their belts while waiting for the good times to return. 
Reminds me of Williston, North Dakota, in terms of the energy boom and the demographic attracted.  read more here.

Read more about the fire herehere and here.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

New: Routledge International Handbook of Rural Criminology

The volume, edited by Joseph F. Donnermeyer, Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University, was published just this week.  Here's what the promotional blurb from Routledge has to say about it:  
49% of the world’s population lives in small towns, villages and farms, yet until recent years criminological scholarship has focused almost exclusively on urban crimes. The Routledge International Handbook of Rural Criminology is the first major publication to bring together this growing body of scholarship under a single cover. For many years rural criminology has remained marginalized and often excluded from the mainstream, with precedence given to urban criminology: this volume intends to address that imbalance. 
Pioneering in scope, this book brings together leading international scholars from fourteen different countries to offer an authoritative synthesis of theoretical and empirical literature. This handbook is divided in to seven parts, each addressing a different aspect of rural criminology:
  • Rurality and crime
  • Criminological dimensions of food and agriculture
  • Violence and rurality
  • Drug use, production and trafficking in the rural context
  • Intersections between rural and green criminology
  • Policing, justice and rurality
  • Teaching rural criminology
Edited by a world renowned scholar of rural criminology, this book explores rural crime issues in over thirty-five countries including Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Australia, Tanzania, the US, and the UK. This is the first Handbook dedicated to rural criminology and is an essential resource for criminologists, sociologists and social geographers engaged with rural studies and crime.
I, along with David G. Gomez, UC Davis Law School Class of 2015, contributed a chapter on Rural Adolescent Substance Use:  Community Causes and Cures.  You can read the abstract here.  

The full table of contents of the Handbook is here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

NPR explores land rights for Western ranchers as a political issue

David Greene reported this morning from central Montana under the headline, "In Big Sky Country, Land Rights Are a Major Issue for Montana Ranchers."  While the transcript is not available online (as far as I can tell), the podcast is and, in short, the segment does a good job of conveying the perspectives of western ranchers.  They explain, for example, that the U.S. government is paternalistic toward them, second guessing how they run their ranching operations.  I admit that I went into the story with some empathy for ranchers, and I felt even more after hearing the story.  After all, as I have wrote on Twitter and on this blog soon after the Bundy Bros. & Co. took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, it seems hypocritical for me to defend the BLM too rigorously when I don't have to negotiate with them to feed my family.

But emotions on these issues do run high on both sides, and so I should not be surprised by some of the comments on the story ... but I was, especially, I suppose, by the tone:
a bunch of Red State whiners asking for more free stuff? Some of them, yet sounds like more people worrying about earning a livelihood. 
But if a grocer in inner city Chicago whined linked this, what would the Red Staters say?? They wouldnt hear it for a second, rather they would say change jobs. Why isnt this advice sufficient for the Ranchers?? 
Or what if a small business owner with a business degree where to make environmental policy for Yellowstone National Park? Bad idea right, but the red staters think a businessman is all knowing, which is why they elected Bush, nominated Romney and Trump. 
These ranchers need to learn the ways of big business, get some lobbyists to help them. That is how it works. If you have bad policy, well then you have to grease the wheels of DC and get what you want.
Note the explicit rural-urban comparison.  Also, on the "change jobs" point, isn't it the case that if too many ranchers change jobs, we'll have more agricultural production in fewer hands than we already do? That doesn't seem like a great solution to me.  Plus, there's more hatefulness where this one came from.

But there is also this, siding with, offering an apologia for the ranchers:
You may want to listen more to what these ranchers have to say as opposed to assuming you have a full understanding of the issues at hand. Most of what they are talking about doesn't even relate to federal land -- it relates to government regulation on PRIVATE land as well. I guarantee that if anyone spent a few days with some of these ranchers and really understood a lot of the issues they were facing, their views would change dramatically. These aren't Cliven Bundy types who want to essentially steal from the public -- they are people trying to run their businesses and support great communities and face very real (often unnecessary) challenges ... and often those challenges are causes by people from far away who don't really understand the issues but for some reason assume they do.
So little empathy to go around, everything polarized in red v. blue terms.  Yuck!

This report is part of NPR's "The View from Here" series.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Is Sanders pandering to coal interests? or does he understand the need for a just transition?

Here's a quote from the New York Times coverage of Sanders' speech in West Virginia today (accompanied by a photo of him in Lexington, Kentucky yesterday):
While I strongly believe we need to combat climate change to make our planet habitable for our children and our grandchildren, let me be clear:  We cannot abandon communities that have been dependent on coal and other fossil fuels. ... In my view, we have got to invest $41 billion rebuilding coal mining communities and making sure that Americans in McDowell County and all over this country receive the job training they need for the clean energy jobs of the future.
To me, that sounds like he might be pandering to "coal country" and the voters there, but not to coal interests.  Sounds like he's talking the talk of a just transition from coal, and it makes me wonder what he would say about the need for a just transition for rural economies facing similar challenges when those economies are not extraction-based.

And here is an excerpt from a piece that ran on Slate a few days ago.  It is headlined, "Donald Trump Clearly Thinks Hillary Clinton is Vulnerable in This One Area.  She Is."  Journalist Jeremy Stahl explains that the "one area" is international trade, and the piece goes on to talk about coal miners in particular:
Trump mentioned how Hillary said in March that "we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." She apologized to a tearful, recently laid off coal miner on Monday for those remarks, but this is clearly still a weakness that Trump plans to exploit.

“I watched her three or four weeks ago when she was talking about the miners as if they were just numbers and she was talking about she wants the mines closed and she will never let them work again,” Trump said. “Let me tell you: the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which was so great to me last week and Ohio and all over, they're going to start to work again, believe me. You're going to be proud again to be miners.”

Ohio and Pennsylvania both went to Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and would prove critical to the GOP’s chances of success were the party to somehow make it a close general election contest.