Friday, January 31, 2020

New policy brief on rural Poverty from Wisconsin's Institute for Research on Poverty

"Many Rural Americans are Still Left Behind" was published earlier this month.  Among other useful information and features, Table 1 compares Rural Poverty in 1959 to 2016.  Here are three things that have changed since then:
  • The rise of nonworking poverty in rural areas (prior to 2005, poor rural household heads were more likely to be working than their poor urban counterparts—this is no longer the case)
  • Rural nonmarital childbearing, cohabitation, and single parenthood have all rapidly increased
  • Immigrants increasingly are becoming isolated in high-poverty neighborhoods in rural communities
Here are three things that have not changed:
  • The persistence of high-poverty counties that are disproportionally rural and continue to be geographically concentrated in Appalachia and Native American lands, the Southern “Black Belt,” the Mississippi Delta, and the Rio Grande Valley
  • The persistence of higher rural than urban poverty rates (using the official poverty measure developed in the 1960s), with rural poverty rates exceeding urban poverty rates every year since 1959 
  • The proportion of rural men who have earned a college degree has remained at about 15% since the 1980s

Friday, January 17, 2020

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXVIII): New Zealand

Secondary road between Rotorua and Taupo
Sign for passenger ferry on Waiheke Island
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
I spent the winter break in New Zealand, starting on the north island before spending the last few nights on the south island.  Both are highly agricultural and, as several Kiwis have commented, quite "rural."  The rurality is especially striking from the vantage point of most roads, which tend to be two-lane, with relatively frequent passing lanes.  In fact, according to the government of New Zealand's own very miserly definition of rural (places with populations less than 1K), only about 13% of the nation's population is rural.
Horse manure for sale, across from school and near car ferry,
Surfdale, Waiheke Island
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
After a few days on Waiheke Island (population 9,770) off Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf, we headed south through Hamilton, population 165,900 and the country's 4th most populous city (also home of Jacinda Ardern), to the Huka Falls area, near Taupo, population 24,700.

Activities on offer at Oneroa community hall
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
That journey took us along two-lane roads amidst many, many dairy farms, the signage for which indicated that they night be jointly owned, or part of a co-operative, as they shared a common name and then were numbered up to 9 (of course, there could have been more that I did not see).  Above is a sign we saw on the road to Orakei Karako Thermal Park--a sorta' mini Yellowstone, between Rotorua and Taupo.  In that region, we saw farms featuring both cattle and sheep.  From there, we headed to Hawke's Bay along a two-land road with signs that said things like "Roaming Livestock . Call 0800 4 Highway" and several signs announcing places where stock waste can be disposed.  In the Hawke's Bay area, we saw many wineries--and a lot more sheep and lambs.
Cattle and sheep operation near Orakei Korako Thermal Park, Waikato Region
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy, south island
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2020

From there we flew to Queenstown, population 15,850, on the south island.  Queenstown is a tourist center--indeed, the so-called adrenaline capital of the world--and its population swells during summer and winter. Among the smaller communities outside the small city of Queensland, are Glenorchy, ArrowtownWanaka, and Cromwell.   Indeed, some agricultural pursuits, including (once again) sheep and wine, flourish nearby.

The Queenstown area in Cental Otago seems to have grown up around two primary pursuits--before the adrenaline thing took off:  gold mining and sheep.  Arrowtown is a place associated with the mid 1800s gold rush, and the old assay office is now a museum.  Walter Peak, a "high country farm" across the lake from Queenstown, is now also a delightful tourist attraction where you can have a fabulous meal and see sheep shearing and sheep dog demonstrations.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Maduro's abandonment of rural Venezuela

That is the subject of Anatoly Kurmanaev's report here. An excerpt follows:
[B]eyond [Caracas], this facade of order quickly melts away. In order to preserve the quality of life of his most important backers, the country’s political and military elites, his administration has poured the country’s dwindling resources into Caracas and forsaken large swaths of Venezuela.
“Venezuela is broken as a state, as a country,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst in Caracas. “The few available resources are invested in the capital to protect the seat of power, creating a ministate amid the collapse.” 
Across much of the country, basic government functions like policing, road maintenance, health care and public utilities have been abandoned. 
Kurmanaev quotes an 83-year-old woman using a machete to tend her bean field. 
We are forgotten.  There’s no government here.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Lone Pine Policy V: The end of an era (1978)

By 1978, New Hampshire was in a state of transition. Outmigration from Massachusetts and other nearby states, in part fueled by New Hampshire's tax climate, had caused the swelling of the southern New Hampshire's population. Many small towns found themselves quickly becoming Boston exurbs and their leaders were becoming increasingly concerned about how to adequately provide basic services to these populations. During the yearly town meetings in March 1978, many Southern New Hampshire towns passed ordinances that were aimed at slowing the growth in their communities. However, those ordinances were met with criticism, notably by former state planning director, Democratic State Senator Mary Louise Hancock of Concord, who believed that such restrictions would exacerbate New Hampshire's already existing housing shortage for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and low income. Growth in the southern tier of the state was so unexpected that a special committee, chaired by future governor John Sununu of Salem, was convened to study the issue to find ways that the state could assist the changing communities. In his report to the governor, Sununu attributed the restrictions on growth to a failure in long range planning and stated that he hoped that these restrictions would be replaced by long term plans. He noted the relatively scarcity of growth plans around the state and how few communities were prepared for rapid growth.

Much like today, economic growth in New Hampshire was not equal. According to an article in the March 14, 1978 edition of The Boston Globe, 90% of industrial and commercial development occurred south of the imaginary line that runs across the state from Portsmouth to Keene. Unemployment was higher in the northern and more rural portions of the state. In a May 14, 1978 interview with The Boston Globe, North Country Regional Planning Commission Executive Director, Gerald Coogan noted that some communities in the North Country had unemployment rates twice as high as communities in southern New Hampshire. Even in the New Hampshire's relative economic boom in the late 1970s, its most rural corners were left behind.

Meldrim Thomson began 1978 in South Africa, thousands of miles away from rural New Hampshire, on a trip that was funded by pro-Apartheid South African Freedom Foundation. While in South Africa, he praised the Apartheid government, attacked President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy, even calling the State Department "Un-American," attacked the United Nations, favorably compared housing in Soweto, a segregated black community, to housing in his hometown of Orford, and said that Apartheid was a "local South African problem." He also compared the decision of the South African government to hold people without a trial to Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. In Thomson's mind, the white minority government was in a war against Communism and victory must be achieved through any means necessary. 

Thomson's excursion to South Africa and his controversial comments were met with some resistance back home where fourteen of the state's top religious leaders issued a letter denouncing his comments. His invitation to speak at a fundraiser for Republican Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Edward King was also revoked. President Jimmy Carter denounced Thomson's comments during a February town hall in Nashua. Thomson doubled down on his praise for South Africa's government and said that the criticism was rooted in misinformation and prejudice against South Africa.

As was common during his three terms as governor, Thomson found himself mired in controversy. It was quite the auspicious start to an election year where he was seeking to win his fourth term in office. However, other obligations were drawing Thomson's attention towards more national and international issues issues. By 1978, Thomson had become the chair of the national Conservative Caucus, which often required him turn his attention to issues outside of the borders of the Granite State. He also found himself mired in the controversy over the Panama Canal Treaty, which was being debated by the Senate in early 1978. He held rallies across the country and even in Panama to voice his disapproval of the treaty. Thomson's strong stance against the treaty even earned him a denouncement in a floor speech by Senator Thomas McIntyre of New Hampshire.

Thomson's controversies weren't just confined to his excursions outside of New Hampshire, he also found plenty of it during the course of his duties as governor. In March, he issued a proclamation calling for the lowering of the flags on Good Friday to honor Jesus Christ, which was later stayed in a 5-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court. In April, he denounced a special session of the legislature and said that, "[t]here are times when we serve best by not serving at all." His stance against the special session brought him into conflict with his own party, including House Speaker George Roberts of Gilmanton who told his caucus to not be beaten into submission by the governor. His inability to cooperate with the legislature would also prove problematic in June when the State Senate failed to advance a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would've limited the ability of towns to raise property taxes, required their budgets to be balanced, and even limited the surplus that they could have. Thomson's efforts to enshrine this into the state's constitution was influenced by a successful effort in California.

He also found himself in the middle of the battle over a proposed nuclear power plant in Seabrook, reminiscent of his earlier battles over an oil refinery plant in Durham. Thomson was an active supporter of the nuclear plant, even hosting a pro-nuclear plant rally in Concord to rally support for it.   In June, Thomson vetoed a bill that would have banned electric providers from raising rates to help finance the construction of the plant.

The 1978 governor's race would come to be defined by economic issues with a particular focus on the Seabrook nuclear plant. The differences between Thomson and Democratic nominee Hugh Gallen are well outlined in this Washington Post piece. The idea of adding a little extra to everyone's electric bills, a tax if you will, to pay for the facility was not especially popular in New Hampshire. Thomson's support for this idea and his staunch anti-tax stance also gave the Democrats a wide opening to paint him as a hypocrite and for Gallen to establish himself as the real anti-tax candidate.

In quite poetic fashion, Mel Thomson would fall on election day 1978. In a lot of ways, he was a victim of his own success. His success in creating a political environment in New Hampshire that didn't favor taxation of any form gave him very little wiggle room on the plant issue and ultimately helped lead to his exit from Concord.

I would be remiss if I did not offer an assessment of Thomson, the central figure of this series thus far. While it is quite easy to disagree with his policy and tactics, you have to take note of his political successes. His ability to implement his agenda and shape the conversation in the state was perhaps made even more remarkable by the fact that he was a constant magnet for controversy, even among those in his own party. His success in New Hampshire made him a national figure in the conservative movement and helped to reshape the direction of the national party, ultimately leading to the nomination and election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

As we wrap up this portion of Lone Pine Policy, we also have to look at New Hampshire as a whole and how it changed between 1968 and 1978. As we have explored in these five parts, the Mel Thomson era of New Hampshire politics brought about sweeping changes and codified many political norms that are still pervasive in the state to this day. It also marked the deepening of the divide that still defines New Hampshire to this day, namely the fact that the southeastern urban and suburban portion of the state has continued to grow and prosper while the rural areas have been slower to keep up.

I also want to take this opportunity to announce that I am taking a hiatus from writing to focus on other professional pursuits. I do hope to sometimes pop in with an update or new post. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

On rural homelessness in Texas

The Texas Tribune reports today, dateline Stephenville, population 21,164, the anchor of a micropolitan area in Erath County, population 41,169.  The headline for Juan Pablo Garnham's story is "In rural Texas, people experiencing homelessness lead 'masked' lives outside of public view."  The themes are predictable and familiar to those who know anything about rural livelihoods.  A big one is lack of services, and another is lack of reliable data.  Here's a short excerpt from the story:
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott spotlighted homelessness in Texas urban areas after battling with Austin's mayor over tent policies and services for those in need. Meanwhile, rural Texas is experiencing a surge in homelessness, and it lacks many of the resources the big cities have to cope. 
Rural counties don’t typically conduct the homelessness counts that urban areas like Austin, Dallas or Houston organize each January. But the Texas Homeless Network estimates that in 2019 more than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in 215 Texas counties outside the state’s urban regions. That’s almost how many people experience homelessness in Dallas and Houston combined. And, since 2016, homelessness in those less populated counties has increased by 33%.
And then there is this on the rural-urban charity gap:
Forty miles north in Mineral Wells, James Rhodes relies on Fort Worth supermarkets to donate the groceries that stock the food pantry of New Haven Ministries, an organization he directs that provides food, clothes and shelter to people in need. 
“The problem with rural areas is that nobody thinks about us. There’s no resources, and we have to do a lot with what we can get,” Rhodes said. 
He oversees volunteers who help him organize, pack and distribute food. New Haven doesn’t receive any state or federal money. Rhodes doesn’t even know where to go or how to apply for the funds that bigger cities get.
Mineral Wells, population 16,788, straddles Palo Pinto County (population 28,111) and Parker County (population 116,297). 

Interestingly, one part of the story suggests that rural services can be better than urban ones in some instances.  Take the case of Michael Landers of Fort Worth, who lost his job five years ago and subsequently spent two years sleeping with his wife and child in their vehicle and in hotel rooms.  They ultimately moved to Mineral Wells where they could stay together as a family at the shelter--not an option in Fort Worth where men and women get separated into different shelters.  Landers found out about the Mineral Wells option, 50 miles away, online.  Here, Garnham quotes Landers:
We didn’t know anything about Mineral Wells.  We didn’t know anybody there, but it was the only option for us.
* * *
This was a smaller community.  They know your name, what you need. In the larger shelters and in larger cities, you are not going to have that.
Garnham provides additional context: 
At [the Mineral Wells] shelter, the Landers family got a bedroom with a bunk bed. Their son would sleep on the top, Landers and his wife on the bottom. The shelter also helped him get his driver's license back, and he found work as a commercial truck driver.  
The Landers family is now living in a suburb of Fort Worth.