Saturday, December 30, 2023

Recent coverage of rural maternity care deserts

I've seen a great deal of coverage of this topic in recent weeks.  With no time to compose a post, I'm just going to list and link to the stories here. 

CalMatters published "As hospitals close labor words, large stretches of California are without maternity care" by Kristen Hwang, Ana Ibarra, and Erica Yee on November 15, 2023.   

Sarah Jane Tribble reported "Can family doctors deliver rural America from its maternal health crisis?" for NPR on December 18, 2023.

Wyofile published a series of stories under the heading Delivery desert.  It includes this piece on tribal clinics by Katie Klingsporn.

This piece by Liz Carey for the Daily Yonder goes beyond maternal and OB/GYN care.  It is titled "Rural Hospitals, Medicaid Expansion Priorities for Kansas Governor." 

This Idaho Capital Sun published this related piece back in the summer, "As US maternal mortality rates surge, Idaho abandons panel investigating pregnancy-related deaths." 

This piece in the Washington Post, out of Madera, California, is not maternity-care specific.  "A hospital’s abrupt closure means, for many, help is distant," by Scott Wilson, published on Nov. 16, 2023, is about  the closure of the county's only adult-care hospital.  I wrote about those events in this June post.  

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Democrat declares pro-rural stance (whatever that means)

Colorado Public Radio was just one media outlet covering last night's news that Colorado congresswoman Lauren Boebert would be abandoning the state's 3d congressional district and running instead in the 4th.  Boebert was barely re-elected to her seat in the 3d district, which covers essentially the western half of the state and all of the so-called Western slope.  It also includes the city of Pueblo in south central Colorado.  It's an area featuring a lot of rural gentrification.  The 4th district, now represented by Ken Buck who has announced his retirement, covers the state's eastern plains and a little slice of the front range, including Castle Rock and Parker, in Douglas County, not far south of (and arguably part of) greater Denver.   The 4th district is more dominated by agriculture, while the third is more dominated by tourism, though it certainly features significant agricultural enterprises, as in the San Luis Valley.  

Boebert was being challenged in the third district by Adam Frisch, formerly a member of the Aspen City Council and a businessman.  Frisch narrowly lost to Boebert in the 2022 race.  Colorado Public Radio reported this from Frisch, responding to Boebert's announcement and the likelihood he'll face a somewhat more moderate candidate in the general election.  That occurrence is likely going to make it more difficult for Frisch to prevail in the race:

[I]n a statement, Frisch remained positive about his chances. “From Day 1 of this race, I have been squarely focused on defending rural Colorado’s way of life, offering common sense solutions to the problems facing the families of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. My focus remains the same.”

Given that Frisch had made a living off rural gentrification in Apsen, it would be interesting to know what he means by "rural Colorado's way of life."  

Here's the New York Times coverage of Boebert's decision; it also quotes Frisch's statement.

Here's some commentary from the summer of 2023 about Governor Jared Polis' alienation of rural Colorado:  "because he can."  

Are elite colleges finally looking for rural students? NPR and Hechinger say "yes"

NPR's Elissa Nadworny and the Hechinger Reports' John Marcus filed this story from Crossville, Tennessee, population 12,000.  The story features high-school student Isabella Cross: 

As a 17-year-old in a rural community, and the daughter of a single parent, "I always kind of felt, like, I wouldn't say necessarily trapped, but a lot of kids feel trapped," says Cross. "And a lot of them never get out. They never get to explore and never get to see other things."

Now, Cross thinks applying to a top-flight college might be possible after all.

Recruiters from some of the nation's most selective universities — MIT, the University of Chicago, Yale — have, for the first time, come to her "little no-name town." It's part of an effort by top schools to pay more attention to rural America, where students are less likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to go to college and, if they do, are more likely to drop out.

"It kind of just felt like they heard us, and they see us, and that they know that there's a need as well for small-town kids like me to have really big dreams," says Cross.

The college fair in Crossville this fall was part of a string of events throughout the state, where admissions officers from about a half-dozen of the nation's most selective universities visited with students and parents. It was among the first by a new consortium called STARS, or Small Town and Rural Students College Network, prompted by a $20 million grant from a University of Chicago trustee.

It follows a long history of neglect of rural areas by many colleges and universities. Not even public research universities recruit in rural places, a 2019 study by scholars at UCLA and the University of Arizona found, disproportionately favoring higher-income public and private high schools in major metropolitan areas.

The story is chock full of quantitative data about rural students, and then there's this telling vignette: 

Outside the high school's auditorium, Nae Evans Sims stopped and thought for a moment about the smallest community she'd ever visited as an admissions recruiter for Case Western Reserve University. "Oh, my gosh," she says. "Probably this one."

A prior post about rural students and college placement is here.  

Rural teacher shortages afflict New York (too)

Amy Feiereisel for North Country Public Radio reported yesterday on teacher shortages in northern New York.  Here's an excerpt:  
Just ten years ago, when Stan Maziejka was a superintendent in Saratoga County, he says they almost under-advertised open jobs.

"We didn't want to have to sift through 1000 applications," he said. "So it was easier just to put an ad in the paper or on the website and deal with 100 or 200 applications."

These days, he says they’d be grateful for 10 applications.

This is a nationwide problem. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 86% of public schools report that they are still struggling to hire educators.

And they've been struggling with staffing since the fall of 2020, because of COVID-era retirements, and fewer new teachers entering the field.

That means everyone is fighting for a smaller pool, and inevitably luring teachers away from other districts.

"Unfortunately, it turns into a bidding war," said Maziejka. "You know, if I have a math opening, and two other districts have a math opening, that person's probably going to go where they can make the most money."

That’s driving starting teacher salaries up across the North Country.

But often, districts are competing with a suburban or urban district outside Northern New York. In that case, Maziejka says the richer district almost always wins. "Not all districts are alike. Some districts have greater capacity to pay higher wages than other districts."

That tracks with what the Education Statistics survey found, which is that overall, poorer, rural districts are having a harder time with hiring.

Most North Country Districts fall into that camp.
A Los Angeles Times story about teacher shortages in rural California is here.  

Monday, December 25, 2023

Are rural places getting more than their fair share from metros? A report from Minnesota

That's the gist of this Minnesota Reformer piece headlined, "Twin cities metro sends money to rural counties."  Madison McVan reports: 
A common refrain from Minnesota Republicans goes something like this: Rural communities are overtaxed, underfunded and ignored by legislators. Greater Minnesota sends their tax dollars to the Twin Cities, where metro residents benefit from government programs.

At a Nov. 15 event in New Ulm, Republican State Sen. Gary Dahms repeated the sentiments that have fueled the kinds of outstate Republican campaigns that helped them win the Minnesota House a decade ago:

“If you look at the money that’s collected in rural Minnesota, for gas tax and things like that, we do not get our fair share for transportation. If you look at health care, we do not get our fair share for health care,” Dahms said, according to the New Ulm Journal. “It really shows up in education, when you see what we get per student, versus what the seven-county metro area … there is a major, major difference there.”

It’s a sweeping argument that plays into the state’s often bitterly divided partisan and geographic politics, which have become deeply intertwined during the past decade, with Republicans dominating greater Minnesota while the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has locked down the metro. It also simplifies a complicated web of tax and revenue distributions — and it’s factually untrue.

Department of Revenue data show that the Twin Cities metro is the state’s biggest driver of tax revenue, and rural counties benefit more than the metro area from government aid.

Twin Cities metro residents paid an average of $4,362 in taxes and received $3,252 in aid and credits per capita in 2019, according to analysis by the Minnesota House Research Department. In the non-metro area counties the same year, residents paid an average of $2,871 per person in taxes and received $3,423 in state aid and credits per capita.

That the 7-county metro would contribute more to Minnesota’s overall tax base isn’t surprising, nor complicated: The metro has more people, its jobs pay more, and the property values are higher. Because both income and property taxes are progressive — the more you make and the more your house is worth, the more you pay — the metro’s contribution is larger.

Kelly Asche of the Center for Rural Policy and Development speaks to the higher costs facing rural programs, which tend to be "less efficient when people are spread out."  She said, 

In a rural area, we are fighting against the economies of scale. It is the rural enemy to be efficiently run.

Read more analysis of what rural Minnesota needs here, with accompanying map here.

This is, of course, an old debate.  In California, for example, we hear it in relation to the would-be State of Jefferson when people ridicule the notion that Jefferson would be better off separate from California, given that these rural counties get more from the state coffers than they pay in.

We usually see this rural v. urban funding debate play out at the federal level--that is, which states get more than their fair share.  I wrote about that most recently here.   

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Colorado gets US DOJ money aimed at alleviating legal deserts

 Colorado Public Radio reports: 

A statewide organization that helps rural Coloradans find legal solutions received a grant of over a half-million dollars this fall to figure out the legal needs of people living in legal deserts, and this month, hired a new staffer to manage it.

The Colorado Access to Justice Commission received a two-year Rural Legal Deserts Grant [from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance] in October to bring legal solutions, in the absence of lawyers, to parts of Colorado where there aren’t enough.

The $627,000 grant comes from a Congressionally Directed Spending Award supported by Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. After the first two years, the grant will expire; the commission can then reapply for additional funding, according to Elisa Overall, executive director of the commission.

She said that outside metropolitan areas like Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, most parts of Colorado have too few lawyers to serve their communities.

“Right now, 45 percent of the state's counties have 10 or less attorneys,” she said. “And that's certainly considered a legal desert.”

The American Bar Association defines a legal desert as a county with fewer than one lawyer per 1,000 people, according to Legal Evolution – an online publication that focuses on the legal industry.

The graphic in that article shows Colorado and seven other states (North and South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia) are identified as “moderate/high legal deserts.” Only five states (Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas and Wisconsin) fall into the category of “high legal deserts.”
Overall said that each rural area has different needs for legal services, and the grant will help them figure out those needs based on where the county is located.
Then there's this quote from Overall about Alamosa, in the southwestern part of the state: 
In Alamosa, we tend to see a lot of drug addiction, substance abuse, and so custody tends to be something that the communities have a greater need for, or potentially expungements of drug-related offenses ... There are areas with high numbers of immigrants and that's where immigration needs are very great and interpretation and translation.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

More on the rural(ish) housing crisis, this time for students in far northern California

Debbie Truong reported for the Los Angeles Times last week from Cal Poly Humboldt in Arcata, population 19,000 (but part of the Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna metropolitan area).  The headline is "Cal Poly Humboldt students live in vehicles to afford college.  They were ordered off campus."  Here's the lede, which is powerful indeed: 
Maddy Montiel and Brad Butterfield marveled at the community they found this semester at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Montiel, an environmental science major, and Butterfield, a journalism major, had lived in their vehicles for several years, the only way, they said, that they could afford to attend college. They usually found parking in campus lots or on nearby streets.

But the pair and about 15 others like them — students living in sedans, aging campers, a converted bus, who could afford a $315 annual parking permit but not rent — found one another on campus parking lot G11. They started parking together in a row of spaces and named their community “the line.” They shared resources: propane tanks to heat their living quarters, ovens to cook meals. They helped one another seal leaky roofs and formed an official campus club aiming to secure a mailing address.

They felt safe. 
“None of us have ever had something like that before,” said Montiel, 27. “People who live like this don’t really congregate, and try to stay out of view.”

Then the notices arrived late last month. The university was going to enforce a campus policy, written into parking regulations, that prohibits overnight camping. Remove vehicles by noon on Nov. 12, or they could be towed and students could face disciplinary action, the letter said.

Montiel and Butterfield moved their vehicles to another campus parking lot, hoping the university would back down if they became less visible. They found two spots under redwood trees at the edge of campus. Others from G11 scattered, driven back into hiding.

On the morning of Nov. 13, several students who stayed at G11 and other campus lots awoke to discover parking violations on their windshields, a $53 fine for living overnight in their vehicles, $40 for those whose vehicles were too large for one spot.

The actions by Humboldt — defended by university officials as necessary for health and safety — provide an up-close look at how low-income California State University students determined to earn a college degree struggle to meet their basic needs amid the state’s student affordable housing crisis.

Prior posts about Cal Poly Humboldt are here, here and here.  A Lost Coast Outpost story about Cal Poly Humbolt's housing crisis is here.  Prior posts about greater Eureka are here (housing crisis), here (drug crisis) and here (bad behavior by law enforcement).   Posts by a former student who grew up in Humboldt are here and here.     

A few days ago (and a week after Truong's story ran) the Los Angeles Times editorial board published this, "Homeless college students just need safe parking overnight.  How tough can that be?"

Here's another Los Angeles Times story about a student housing crisis, this one in Santa Cruz.  This story is related, also partly about the Santa Cruz situation.  Here's the Wall Street Journal's story about the Santa Cruz housing crisis and its impact on students.  Students at UC Santa Barbara have also faced housing crises in recent years.  

Postscript from Dec. 7, 2023:  Santa Cruz is the state's least affordable housing market.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

With rural lawyers long in the news, Law 360 turns to rural courthouses and the challenge of distance

This story by Jack Karp for Law 360 is a real gem for several reasons.  But before I move to those, here's the lede: 
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill in November, following the Senate's lead, that would add two federal court locations in rural parts of Texas and Washington state.

Lawmakers hope the legislation will improve access to the federal courts for those who live in remote areas. Experts, however, say there's already a sufficient number of courthouses to serve rural residents. It's getting to them that's the problem.

On this point, I can't resist pointing to my detailed analysis of the struggles rural residents sometimes face in getting to services in metro areas; read more here and here.  Karp's story continues: 

Long distances, geography, weather and even wildlife can make traveling to the local courthouse difficult for residents of rural communities, hampering access to the legal system, according to attorneys.
* * * 
Some attorneys say remote proceedings have eased the problem, but others insist that the cost and lack of broadband and computers make online hearings inaccessible for rural litigants, who often prefer being able to go to a physical courthouse staffed by real people.
Then Karp quotes Michele Statz of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth, who researches rural access to justice, with a focus on far northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, including tribal courts:  
There's this sort of 30,000-foot view that we'll put in the technology and people can just attend court differently. But it's so much more than that. It's so much more than just a hearing.

* * *

Overwhelmingly, our survey data with self-represented litigants show that litigants almost always want to attend in-person hearings, which very powerfully counters the sort of message on the streets where we have this technological silver bullet. In reality, humans are what people want.
Besides pithy quotes like these, one thing that makes this story so great is that Karp touches on several regions, though the Western U.S. features most prominently.  (Western states tend to be divided into counties that cover much greater land area than those of their eastern and midwestern counterparts.  Arizona, for example, is the 6th largest state but only 15 counties).  

Here's an excerpt from California, featuring my former student from Law and Rural Livelihoods, Kaly Rule, now family law facilitator and self-help center director in Lake County California, population 68,000
Gas is expensive, and if you're living on the edge — you have a low income, you can barely afford to pay your rent or you're not even paying your rent — the gas to get to and from the courthouse is going to be a huge barrier.
Also featured prominently:   Columbia Legal Services and the work they are doing in the rural reaches of Washington State.  Here's a quote from that part of the article: 
In Stevens County, Washington, which has a population of 40,484, it can take over an hour for people in the county's most populated area to drive to the district courthouse, according to Judge Lech J. Radzimski, presiding judge for the Tri-County Judicial District, which includes Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties.

Distances like that are a problem, especially for low-income litigants and defendants who may not be able to afford the time off work or child care expenses that traveling those stretches requires, according to area attorneys.

"If they have to take an hour or an hour and a half just to get to the courthouse, they can lose their jobs because they don't have sick time or vacation time or personal days," said Columbia Legal Services Executive Director Merf Ehman. "If they're agricultural workers, particularly in eastern Washington, that can be a huge problem."
Another terrific part of the story is that Karp speaks to lots of folks--not just academics.  He also got this quote from Nathan Hall of the National Center for State Courts:  
There are just beautiful examples of the steps leading to the courthouse, and then what you'll see is there'll be, like, a little side door that's the handicapped entrance.

Karp provides some specific examples of these problems, including one out of eastern Washington state and one out of Fresno, California.  He also quotes Hall regarding how expensive it is to build new courthouses. 

A fourth commendable part of the story is that it includes some cool photos, like the lead one of a horse in front of a court house.  Please click through to see it and the others.  

Friday, November 24, 2023

While imperfect in its representation of the Osage Nation, "Killers of the Flower Moon" highlights the Osage's important story

Martin Scorsese recently released his latest film, "Killers of the Flower Moon." In honor of Native American Heritage Day, this blog post takes up the issue of how the Osage Nation received the film. 

"Killers of the Flower Moon" or ("Killers") is a three-and-a-half hour epic western, romance, and comedy. "Killers" is based on David Grann's 2017 acclaimed nonfiction book, whose subtitle is: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. This film tells a dark and painful chapter of the Osage nation. It is inspired by true events. 

Scorsese decided that the heart of "Killers" should be the relationship between Mollie and Ernest Burkhart, an Osage woman whose family members were mysteriously dying off (Lily Gladstone), and her settler husband (Leonardo Dicaprio). 

The film takes place around Pawhuska, Oklahoma, shortly after World War IPawhuska is the county seat of Osage County, Oklahoma. With a population of 2,984, Pawhuska is rural according to the U.S. Census Bureau definition. 

While the Osage's ancestral domain included much of Oklahoma, legends indicate that the tribe originally lived near the mouth of the Green River in Kentucky. In paleolithic times they ranged from the fork of the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The ancestral home of the Osage was part of the Louisiana Purchase that the U.S. acquired in 1803. Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, and soon after over 5,000 Osage were removed west to the "Indian Territory."

By 1872, American settlers forced the Osage to relinquish most of their remaining homelands and relocate to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma. In 1897, the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company discovered vast oil deposits under their new reservation. The Osage had the mineral rights to the oil discovered, which made them some of the richest people in the world by the 1920s. This oil wealth also made them targets of a murder conspiracy.

"Killers" tells the true story of the so-called "reign of terror," when members of the Osage Nation were murdered after they became wealthy from the discovery of oil underneath their land. The murder conspiracy was concocted by affluent rancher William K. Hale (played in the film by Robert DeNiro). The film revolves around the relationship of an Osage woman, Mollie Kyle and white World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart, who is Hale's nephew. 

The Osage murders became the U.S. Bureau of Investigation's first major homicide investigation

"Killers" was met with critical acclaim and was widely acclaimed by critics and audiences, receiving a rare 93 percent tomatometer rating, with one reviewer writing:
Enormous in runtime, theme, and achievement, Killers of the Flower Moon is a sobering appraisal of America's relationship with Indigenous peoples and yet another artistic zenith for Martin Scorsese and his collaborators.

However, not everyone received the film well initially. When Martin Scorsese indicated he would direct and co-write "Killers," plenty of Osage people were skeptical. Since the film largely centers around a white man, many Osage members criticized the film, including Christopher Côté, an Osage language consultant on the film: 

As an Osage, I really wanted this to be from the perspective of Mollie and what her family experienced, [b]ut I think it would take an Osage to do that.

Former Osage Nation Chief Jim Gray told CNN about his initial hesitancy about the creation of "Killers." Gray served as the Osage Nation chief from 2002 to 2010, and he is direct descendent of one of the Osage murder victims. Today, he is the principal consultant at D.B.A. Gray Consultants. Gray expressed initial reaction with the film:

I was worried we were going to get exploited again — not so much in losing resources and our land, but in the telling of the story of how we lost our resources and land.

In an editorial in the Tulsa World, Gray explained that while he has an uncomfortable perspective with the film and the history it tells, overall he is pleased that it highlights Osage history.

Devoid of today’s understanding of how we think of ourselves as Americans and our so-called exceptionalism, this movie lures you in with the beauty of the Osage culture and the excitement of the oil boom. Then it grabs you by the lapels and demands that you pay attention to what society and federal Indian policy thought of Indigenous people when the lure of money brought in society’s every dark element to engage in an orgy of theft, murder and exploitation. It wasn’t just bad people doing bad things; it was bad federal policy that permitted it. 
Gray commented that he was glad that, before the film was shot, Scorsese and "Killers" film crew recognized and listened to how the Osage tribe and community were impacted by these murders.

In 2019, Scorsese and his team met with members of the Osage Nation and others to discuss "Killers." At the meeting, Gray and other tribe members got the chance to voice their concerns about the script and the film, offer feedback, and share ideas that partially changed the trajectory and theme of "Killers." Gray wrote in the op-ed:
If we don't take control of our own story and communicate our own narrative about our own history then somebody else will.
Due to the consultation with the Osage community, Osage orthography and language is spoken by both Osage and non-Osage actors. Throughout the film, the characters don traditional clothing made by Osage artisans. The scenery in the film is accurately depicted and was filmed on the Osage reservation.

Gray said that the Scorsese team welcomed the consultation with and feedback from the Osage nation. He suggested that this should be an industry standard in Hollywood: 
If you're going to make a movie with indigenous content this is the model you need to follow [b]ecause this history of Hollywood misrepresenting indigenous stories is something that should remain in the past.
Gray suggested that by centering the story on Ernest Burkhart and William Hale, perhaps "Scorsese was asking all of us to consider our part in this whitewashing of our history and possibly his own complicity as a filmmaker." 

Chad Renfro, the tribe’s ambassador for the film and a consulting producer on the project, mentioned that even if it is not perfectly told, it is positive that such a major movie highlighted the Osage's important story
It’s not every day that a small Native nation gets this platform. This is a horrific story, and it is something that is really hard for us to watch. But it is thrilling to say the least to see it come to life in such a way.
"Killers of the Flower Moon" is playing in theaters now, but it will eventually be available to stream on Apple TV+. To read more posts about indigenous peoples, see here and here

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Barbara Kingsolver speaks to the NYT about Demon Copperhead

The New York Times today published a brief interview with Barbara Kingsolver, who this year won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, Demon Copperhead, set ini Appalachia. (Read more about the book in several posts here).  This quote from the NYT interview caught my attention.

Then there are the city dwellers, who examined their own prejudices after reading “Demon Copperhead”; and the parents of teenagers who thought twice before filling a prescription for an addictive painkiller. Kingsolver has heard from them too. Because Demon, that scrappy redheaded survivor, “has been out there doing his job, I can relax a little bit. I can knit and grow my garden.”

Another key quote closes the article;  

If you’re troubled, if you’re struggling, if your kids are not OK, this is not a personal failing. This is not a failure of virtue. It’s a disease. It is not cured by incarceration. It’s cured by compassion and medicine like any other disease.

And that message reminds me of this information, from an interview George Goehl of People's Action did with Chris Hayes in a 2019 episode of "Why Is this Happening?"  Goehl told of fliers with this message being distributed in North Carolina:  

"Are you addicted to opioids?  It's not your fault.  You didn't do anything wrong.  You deserve help."  So quite loving in message.  "Please call us, the white knights of the KKK." 

I'm intrigued that two sources at opposite ends of the political spectrum would be conveying a similar message to those suffering from opioid addiction:  It's not your fault.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Less oversight means more risk to child workers

Worthington, Minnesota, population 13,947, described by a former resident as “a small, rural town in Southwestern Minnesota,” has more unaccompanied migrant children per capita than anywhere else in the country. Also in Worthington: a long-standing open secret that some of these migrant children are illegally employed to clean a slaughterhouse run by JBS, the world's largest meat processor.

In Green Forest, Arkansas, population 2,972, a cleaning company that works with meatpacking plants was fined over $90,000 for unlawfully employing six minors who were forced to work 16-hour shifts with no breaks. You can read more about Green Forest, AR, here and here.

While the number of children working in dangerous jobs is rising and media coverage of the phenomenon has raised public outrage, the recent trend among some states is to roll back child labor protections. 

Just two weeks after authorities found minors working illegally at the meatpacking plant, the Arkansas legislature passed the Youth Hiring Acteliminating work permit requirements for children under the age of 16. Before the Youth Hiring Act was passed in March 2023, child workers under 16 years old had to get a work permit from the Arkansas Division of Labor.  Some fear that by eliminating this requirement children will be subject to less safe working conditions because the state will have no records of where underage children are employed.
Iowa also rolled back child labor protections in the spring of 2023. As of April 2023, children in Iowa as young as 14 can now work night shifts, and 15-year-olds can work on assembly lines.
Accompanying Arkansas and Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Georgia have all introduced bills or laws this year to allow teens to work more, and with less government oversight.
Who is advocating for this weakening of child labor protections? Most of the bills on this issue that were introduced in Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri were designed by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). Funded by ultra-conservative and Republican donors, the FGA “frames its child worker bills as part of a larger debate surrounding parental rights, including education and childcare.” 
But important and shocking facts provide a counternarrative that is grounded in parental rights: Children under 18 are twice as likely to be seriously injured at work than those over 18. In the dairy industry, injuries among all workers are double the national industry average, yet children as young as 14 regularly use dangerous equipment in that sector.
Most at risk for unsafe, unregulated working conditions are undocumented minors who come to the United States without a guardian. In 2022, 130,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States, triple the number entering just five years ago. Undocumented children don’t necessarily understand the laws in the United States or even the language, which puts them at greater risk for labor trafficking.
While child workers are employed in all 50 states, from Maine to Hawaii,  undocumented children are likely more at risk in rural areas given the industries associated with it and the challenge of enforcing laws there. You can read about the challenges surrounding law enforcement in rural places here.
In addition to the obstacles regarding law enforcement, agriculture is the primary industry in many rural areas, and agriculture is a context in which child labor is commonly exploited. This is partly because federal laws are more relaxed when it comes to agricultural labor regulations.

In 1938, the standards for children performing farm work were more lenient because farming was considered a family-oriented task.  Farm consolidation, which peaked between 1950 and 1997,  shifted the size and number of farms in America substantially. From 1987 to 2012, the number of farms with more than 2,000 acres nearly doubled while farms with over 200 acres but less than 1,000 acres fell by 44%

Despite the shift away from family-oriented farms towards large industrial ones, the labor laws covering agricultural workers have remained largely stagnant. As a result, underage farm workers today are often paid significantly less than the minimum wage and are subject to harsh working conditions such as pesticide exposure, long working hours with no overtime, and no bathroom access or available drinking water. In fact, of all the jobs that children do, only about 7% are in the agricultural field yet agricultural jobs make up 40% of youth work-related fatalities.

Of course, child labor violations are not limited to rural places or the agricultural sector.  Tens of thousands of children are working illegally in hotels, delivery services, restaurants, and more. This is happening in all 50 states and in places stretching from rural Virginia to New York City.

As consumers of Nature Valley granola bars, Lucky Charms, Ford cars, Tyson chicken nuggets, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream (all of which, along with many more companies, have used child labor in their factories per the New York Times) we all have a responsibility to demand tighter labor laws for children in this country. Moreover, addressing this problem should not be limited to rural or urban places. Instead, this is a topic that should be tackled by coalition building along the rural-urban divide. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Do Democratic victories in small towns, rural areas portend different statewide trends in North Carolina?

Screen shot of Anderson Clayton praising the work Democratic county
parties are doing in North Carolina.  Nov. 8, 2023

I've written a great deal here on Legal Ruralism about Anderson Clayton, the young chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party who has attracted national attention.  One thing Clayton has advocated is rebuilding her party from the ground up--with something of a focus on ensuring local elections are contested so that North Carolina is truly a two-party state.  She wants to ensure voters everywhere have choices and that the party is present everywhere.  

Now, Laura Leslie reports for WRAL out of Raleigh, North Carolina under the headline, "NC Rides National Wave of Democratic Victories."  Here's an excerpt.

In North Carolina, Democrats are celebrating mayoral races and town council seats in unlikely places. They’re smaller wins, to be sure, but they’re perhaps even more surprising than some of the bigger victories elsewhere.

Most North Carolina municipal elections are nonpartisan. But it’s not unusual for parties to recruit, train, endorse and support candidates.
Democrats swept the mayor’s race and council seats in Huntersville, in Republican-leaning northern Mecklenburg County — the first time that’s ever happened, according to Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer.
"This is an odd election,” Bitzer said, adding that the Huntersville area has been growing and becoming more politically competitive.

* * *  

Clayton re-posted this candidate recruitment post from a county party.
Democrats also won all the open seats in New Hanover County, which is politically nearly evenly divided. They won the mayor’s race in High Point, a seat that’s been held by a Republican for many years. They even swept the town councils in Cooleemee, a tiny town in Davie County, and in Mars Hill and Marshall in Madison County, all typically Republican areas.

Democrats have not engaged much in local races in recent cycles, but longtime Democratic strategist Gary Pearce says that’s changing under new party Chairwoman Anderson Clayton. He credits her for the wins.

Pearce is further quoted:

She had made a big thing when she came in about wanting to compete in municipal races. Some Democrats were afraid that would take the focus off the 2024 election, but she proved them wrong.

They recruited candidates, people organized, and that’s good practice for next year.  It’s also just a psychological boost. You can’t underestimate how much a boost like this means.

I'm seeing a similar focus on candidate recruitment by the Arkansas Democratic Party.  

Other important stories about organizing--about being present at the local level--are here and here (the latter more focused on North Carolina), this time with attention to how Republicans are going into places like Pembroke, North Carolina, and opening community centers.  Pembroke is home of the Lumbee tribe and "in the largely rural, poverty-addled county of Robeson, in the state’s southeast corner."

Finally, this is Clayton speaking after the Democratic Primary on March 5, 2024

In response to Robinson’s primary win, North Carolina Democratic Chair Anderson Clayton said he believes voters need to take Robinson seriously.

“I listened to a lot of folks earlier who kind of downplay the power of someone like Mark Robinson in North Carolina. I think that the one thing that Democrats have got to know is that he's been out in rural North Carolina. …He's been running for governor for the last four years in my personal opinion,” Clayton said. “I think that we've got to be able to show up in places that haven't seen us in a long time.” (emphasis added)

This is not the first time I've seen Clayton referred to with he/him pronouns, though Clayton is a woman--indeed, a famous woman at this point.   In any event, I'm glad to see Clayton sticking to her guns here about the need for Democrats to "show up in places that haven't seen us in a long time."   That is, of course, code for rural places.  

Postscript:  The Wall Street Journal published this by Valerie Bauerlein on June 15, 2024, "Why Democrats Keep Losing the Battle for Small-Town America."  The dateline is Wilson County, North Carolina, population 78,784.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Democrat Beshear re-elected Kentucky Governor, with notable support from rural voters

Major media outlets have just called today's gubernatorial race in Kentucky for Andy Beshear, the Democratic incumbent.  Beshear becomes only the second governor in the Commonwealth's history to serve two consecutive terms.  

Dave Wasserman, the political commentator, tweeted details of several nonmetro counties' election returns, with several showing that Beshear improved his margin over his Republican opponent this year, Daniel Cameron, compared to his margin over his Republican opponent four years ago, then-incumbent Matt Bevin.  

The counties mentioned here are Anderson (population 23,000), Bell (population 25,000), Nicholas (population 7,500), Taylor (population 26,000), along with Elliot (population 7,400) and Magoffin (population 12,000).  Wasserman characterized the latter two as eastern coalfields.

Then Wasserman tweeted (that is, posted on the platform now known as X) this, comparing Beshear's performance in rural Kentucky to that of other Democrats vying for statewide office: 

It says:  

So far, Beshear (D) is running 20-30 points ahead of other statewide Dem candidates on the margins in many of these rural counties, which is a decent early sign for him.  #KYGOV

More evidence of Beshear's rural prowess is found in this data point from Midas Touch.  It contrasts Beshear's margin with Trump's 2020 margin in nonmetro Letcher County.

Letcher County, population 21,548, is in the state's southeastern corner, which is Appalachian.  It happens to be home of the Center for Rural Strategies and Appalshop, both in Whitesburg, the county seat.  The area was badly flooded in late summer 2022.  

A student shared with me this AP piece written by Bruce Schreiner in December, 2022, which sheds light on Beshear's rural strategy.  The feature focuses on both Beshear's rural outreach and on his focus on meeting people's needs, on helping them.  It uses the word caring.  Here's an excerpt: 

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that Democrats have a better chance of connecting with rural voters in his home state and elsewhere when they talk about the things people need and the ways they can help them.
Schreiner quotes Beshear at length:
When we think about how do we communicate with our rural families, the first thing is to care about them. And to show that you care about them, and to earn their trust that you do truly care about them.
The AP story continues: 
Beshear said his party’s candidates need to show up with a core message centered on good-paying jobs, access to quality health care and good public schools — all issues that he sees as resonating with rural voters who have abandoned the party in droves in recent elections.

Beshear, who faces his own tough reelection fight next year in a state dotted with small towns and farms, is better positioned than most Democrats to talk about connecting with rural voters. He has maintained strong job approval ratings in a state where the GOP has become the dominant party.

Beshear has devoted much of his time as governor leading recovery efforts in rural areas of Kentucky stricken by devastating tornadoes a year ago and historic flooding earlier this year.

To make inroads in rural regions, candidates need to focus on the things that matter most to people — whether they’re making enough to support their families, can afford quality health care that’s accessible and can send their children to good schools.

Beshear extended Medicaid in Kentucky to include vision, hearing, and dental care.

Here's another direct quote from Beshear about vying for rural voters: 

I think Democrats should show up more in rural America because it’s America. Every person counts. The great lesson of COVID is that we all matter. And if we’re not lifting up every single part of Kentucky, we’re not doing our job.

On the caring theme, this Twitter thread is fun.  

I don't see any mention of rural people or places in the Washington Post's coverage of Beshear's victory today.   The Hannah Knowles report does note, however, that Kentucky is a "deep-red state."  The New York Times election night coverage also does not mention his rural outreach.  I expect a more in-depth feature tomorrow, and it'll be interesting to see if it notes the rural angle.  

I note that Beshear's Kentucky win with 52.5% of the vote exceeded the margin of Republican incumbent Tate Reeves, who prevailed over Democratic challenger Brandon Presley.  Reeves secured 51.8%.  In that race, a third party candidate won 1.4%.  

My earlier writing on statewide candidates' rural strategies--in particular that of U.S. Senator John Fetterman--is here and here.   

Postscript:  Here's a Nov. 13 Politico analysis of Beshear's win, featuring an interview with the governor's campaign manager, Eric Hyers.  

Monday, November 6, 2023

History repeats itself on Arkansas' Buffalo River

I grew up on chatter about the Buffalo National River, the nation's first national river, which was designated in 1972.  I grew up on that chatter because I grew up five miles from the river, in Newton County, Arkansas, home of the river's headwaters.  

My parents talked in my early childhood about their friends--the parents of my friends--whose land was condemned by eminent domain to become part of the park's land, owned and controlled by the federal government.  

While I was still a tween and teen, I saw the establishment of canoe rental enterprises in Jasper and surrounding communities, businesses that had been granted concessions by the National Park Service.  The county attracted growing numbers of tourists as it was remade into a regional ecotourism destination.  (Read more about that here and here; this is just some of my coverage of an industrial hog farm that threatened the river for several years starting in 2013). By the time I was in college and law school at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), 80 miles to the west, I had become a tourist on the river myself, consuming (in a sense) the very rurality in which I'd grown up, the very wilderness I'd taken for granted.  (See more photos of Newton County, including the county seat, Jasper, here and here).  

Decades on, I saw the proliferation of vacation rentals--even buildings like a beauty salon in Jasper converted to an AirBnB.  Though I've not seen any news reporting or data on the topic, folks in Jasper have told me that the widespread conversion of buildings to short-term rentals has resulted in a housing shortage.  Of course, that's happening in lots of rural communities, and urban ones, too.

In the past few weeks, the Buffalo has suddenly burst back into the news, once again in relation to its status as a national river.  The reason:  two grandsons of Sam Walton, the legendary founder of Walmart Corporation, have been working behind the scenes--apparently in cahoots with Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman--to get the river re-designated from a National River to a National Park Preserve.  

I first saw this news on the front page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on October 7, but it didn't seem to break through the standard media humdrum until KUAF, the NPR station associated with the University of Arkansas, two counties over ran this program on Oct. 16.  After that segment, things started popping on social media, and the next thing I knew, I was seeing reports on X (formerly known as Twitter) of a town hall held in my hometown on Thursday, Oct. 26.  Though only about 550 folks live in Jasper, twice that many reportedly showed up at the Jasper School cafeteria, which photos show at overflow capacity.  Another couple thousand folks were said to have attended the meeting on Zoom.  

Meanwhile, the Madison County Record, a weekly newspaper in neighboring Madison County, which lies to the west, between Washington County (where the land grant University of Arkansas is) and Newton County, has been credited with breaking the story of the proposed  re-designation of the Buffalo River.

Historic building in Kingston, Arkansas, just off the square.
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023

That is, apparently it was the Madison County Record that first reported that the Walton Family was buying up land in Madison County with an eye to its long-term appreciation if the Buffalo National River becomes a bigger deal. I can't find that coverage online, but here's more from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Walton land purchases in Madison County, including a building on the Kingston town square bought under an alias with a Nebraska address in December, 2021.  The Waltons, via the spokesperson for their Runway Group, have issued this statement about the Kingston property
Kingston Community Library
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023

As part of a restoration effort, members of the Walton family acquired three historic buildings on the square in downtown Kingston, intending to update them and open their doors to the community. While we don’t yet have a timeline for the opening, we will share more when we do.

Though Kingston is in Madison County, its school is part of the Jasper School District. You can see a photo of downtown Kingston here.  (And there is a darling, tiny and well-cared-for library on the town square in a squat wooden building that presumably has not been purchased by the Waltons, but lies amidst the three they now own).

Of note is that the Madison County Record has made free its coverage of the Buffalo River re-designation, including this about the community meeting in Jasper on October 26.  What follows is from publisher Ellen Kreth's reporting: 

After a town hall meeting last Thursday, proponents of turning public land around the Buffalo National River into a national park preserve said they would step back from the idea. The following day, a website touting the benefits of re-designating the land was taken down.

But opponents of the idea are not backing down and don’t trust that efforts to re-designate the land are no longer ongoing.

Misty Langdon, owner of Steel Creek Cabins, who organized the town hall meeting, said proponents have poured too much time, resources and money “into this project that seems to be linked to Bryan Sanders [Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ husband],” to just walk away.

In July 2022, the Runway Group approached U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who represents Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District and chairs the Natural Resources Committee, with the idea of making public land around the river a national park preserve.

Grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and co-founders of the Runway Group, Steuart and Tom Walton are investors in real estate, outdoor initiatives, conservation, recreation, hospitality and businesses in Northwest Arkansas.

* * *

The Runway Group also has been linked with working with the governor’s office and the First Gentleman on the possibility of re-designating public lands.

Last Friday, Runway Group’s Vice President of Corporate and Community Affairs Krista Cupp said the group watched the town hall meeting. She reiterated they are not going forward with any proposal for re-designation. There are “no next steps,” she said.

“We wanted to explore a new idea for our home state together. However, this is not our decision to make. There is no new action being taken,” a statement issued earlier by the Runway Group said.

Cupp said when the group approached Westerman, it didn’t present a proposal to re-designate the land but simply asked if the idea was worth exploring.
Kingston Community Library 

Two Westerman staff members attended the town hall in Jasper, and his office issued a statement including this: 

Although it is in the purview of the House Natural Resources Committee to advance legislation to designate National Parks, I’ve made it clear I would not support any proposition that does not have grass roots support from those that live, work, and raise their families in the Buffalo River watershed.

As the Representative for Arkansas’s Fourth Congressional District, my first priority is advocating on behalf of my constituents. I will continue to listen to the thoughts and concerns of Arkansans that would be impacted by any change in designation. 

Westerman said he had no plan to write or introduce any legislation that would re-designate the land. 

While the Madison County Record story says the meeting was convened by Misty Langdon of Steel Creek Cabins, another report says it was convened by a non-profit that appears focused on preserving the area's history, the Remnant Group.  

Here's part of a column by Jared Phillips, a Washington County farmer who teaches at the University of Arkansas, writing about what's at stake with the proposed re-designation. 
This push by the heirs of Sam Walton to take control of Arkansas’s resources nakedly shows their true aim: control, not philanthropy. The news surrounding the proposal to change the designation of the Buffalo National River, alongside the reported purchase of Horseshoe Canyon, continued land grabs along the Kings River and more amount to only one thing: the wealthiest in the region are pushing the rest of us out. Removal by way of development and recreation is still removal.

The thing is, claims that this development will ease poverty and boost economic vitality in rural areas is suspect at best. Across the nation, developing rural outdoor recreation areas doesn’t produce a meaningful decline in poverty rates at a county level. In fact, in many cases — and Newton County is one — when poverty rates go down in these areas, it has less to do with a wage increase or better opportunity. Economic indicators look better simply because poor folk can’t afford to stay in their place any longer and must leave. That’s why we’ve seen both a drop in poverty in Newton County and a drop in population. The claim that this sort of transition brings about wholly positive things is, on its face, untrue.

The current conversation about the Buffalo isn’t actually about the river. Bike trails, art parks, high-brow museum expansions — it’s not really about that. It’s about the future of the Ozarks. All of us, old stock and new, need to ask ourselves if we are truly represented in the decision making that is shaping — often literally — the next generation’s hills.
And if we’re honest, the only answer is that we’re not. If we truly were, we’d see regional efforts to push the wealthiest and the powerful to put their money where their mouth is. We would see meaningful, long-term action to effectively address economic injustice and food security in the region. To address worker safety. To thoughtfully and wisely engage in land planning that preserves working, welcoming landscapes instead of putting fences around elite, enclosed playgrounds built on the bones of our grandparents.

Instead, what we have is an idle class dictating the region’s future according to their own wishes.

A 2021 column by Phillips and published in the Democrat-Gazette echoed some similar themes and challenged the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Read it here.  

Then, yesterday, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson wrote in favor of the proposed National Park Preserve, offering a perspective that runs squarely counter to that of PhillipsThe headline, "Loving it to death," is a reference to tourists loving the Buffalo River so much that they come in such great numbers that the current infrastrcture, e.g., parking lots, toilets, is overwhelmed.  Interestingly, Nelson vouches for the Walton brothers--declaring their motives "pure."    

In addition to their distrust of government, those who live in these hills distrust outsiders. They’re concerned by the large amounts of land being bought by entities associated with brothers Tom and Steuart Walton of Bentonville. I know the Walton brothers, and I want to make one thing clear: Their motives are pure. They realize that our state’s ability to attract and keep talented people in the decades ahead will rest in part on our protecting and enhancing outdoor recreational attributes.

The Walton brothers could live anywhere in the world and do anything they want. But their focus these days is on enhancing quality of life in Arkansas. Other states should be so lucky. Their involvement in the Coalition for Buffalo River National Park Preserve doesn’t worry me. It gives me hope that this effort will succeed.

Here's a competing column from Mike Masterson arguing that the river should be left as it is.  And here's a column from John Brummet, political columnist writing for the Democrat-Gazette, "Selling the state down the river?"  Brummet, too, is skeptical of the wisdom of a re-designation and of the motives of Governor Sanders and the Walton brothers.  

Here's a post on how to bring oldtimers and newcomers together in places like Newton County.  And here's a post, in the context of an industrial hog farm controversy a decade ago about how the interests of folks in Fayetteville and the wider northwest Arkansas region are often seen as being at odds with those of the rural, Newton County locals.  And that reminds me:  I've not seen anyone talking about how many of the folks who showed up at the Oct. 26 meeting were "locals" from Newton County--as opposed to environmentalists from the wider region.  

Postscript:  Here's a Nov. 8, 2023 update from the Madison County Record reporting that the Newton County Quorum Court (essentially a county board of supervisors) had voted unanimously to oppose any re-designation of the Buffalo National River.  A quote follows: 

Newton County Quorum Court members passed a resolution at their Nov. 6 meeting opposing “the changing of the name designation or expansion of the Buffalo National River, and any further negative impact on the agricultural lands or infringement on private ownership on the Buffalo National River Watershed.”

The vote was unanimous with approximately 25 citizens in attendance.

Justice of the Peace Jamie Mefford said the court wanted to show its opposition to any name change, park expansion, private land rights restrictions and any agricultural restrictions.

The Newton County Times currently has yet to post anything about this on its webpage.  Sad when the neighboring county newspaper is able to cover a county's news faster than its own paper can.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

President Biden pops in to rural America today, reaching out to mitigate the flow of rural voters to the GOP

X post from afternoon of Nov. 1, 2023
President Biden visited rural Minnesota today, and his administration dispatched another dozen officials to various corners of rural America to talk about his agenda to help the nation's rural reaches.  

Politico's headline was revealing: "Lose by less:  Biden tries to stanch Democratic losses in rural America."  Elena Schneider and Garrett Downs report: 

President Joe Biden will visit Minnesota farm country Wednesday — officially to promote his administration’s work to support farmers in the fight against climate change and help rural areas connect to broadband.

But privately, allies hope the White House outreach — part of a two-week blitz of rural America — can also help claw back voters in a part of the country where Democrats have hemorrhaged support in recent years. While party strategists are under no illusions they can win majorities in rural counties, they desperately need to lose by less next year.

* * * 

Biden’s path to victory in 2024 cuts through these rural counties, where the Biden campaign must make “sure the margins stay close,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who’s scheduled to appear alongside the president on Wednesday and grew up in a town of 400 people.

* * * 

Losing by less matters in a slew of battleground states, from Georgia to Pennsylvania to Arizona, where Republicans can overcome leads Democrats may build in urban and suburban centers by blowing them out in small-town America. It’s a perennial challenge for Democrats, as their losses have meant fewer rural representatives in the party nationally. In a segmented media landscape, it’s harder to reach rural voters through traditional media, while the broader party brand deteriorated there in recent years. 
On that "lose less" theme, you'll find lots of content on this blog, like here and here.  

Here's a quote from Matt Hildreth, founder of Rural, a super PAC:  
Biden is a champion for these communities, but the mechanics of the party get in the way [because] getting Democrats out of this hole is a multi-cycle process. We can’t coordinate with Democrats [as a super PAC], but there wouldn’t be anyone to coordinate with even if we wanted to. I don’t think that’s Biden’s fault. I think there’s just not enough talent in the Democratic party from rural communities.

And this is from Lauren Gepford of Contest Every Race, which recruits and supports Democrats in rural places:  

I’d love for [the] Biden campaign to be on rural radio, rural billboards — make it safe to be a Biden supporter in rural America. It’s unlike me to support yard signs, but in rural areas, visibility is key.
The Politico story includes this important quote from former Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who lost the contest for U.S. Senate last year to J.D. Vance, the Republican whose 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, brought him fame and fortune.  
You can show up, but if you show up and say, ‘aren’t you doing great?’ … whether they’re the president or the secretary of Agriculture, you will be seen as completely and utterly out-of-touch and that is when people go and look elsewhere to vote for someone.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration's comms people took to X (formerly known as Twitter), with postings like these (following on the one at the top of this post):

X posts from afternoon of Nov. 1, 2023
All of this said, it'll be interesting to see if Biden's rural messaging gets through to rural Americans.  The comments in my X feed are mostly from Biden detractors, ridiculing him for these posts and lots of other things.   And, as I have written before, the fact that Hillary Clinton had a rural plan/program (and Donald Trump did not) did her little good in the 2016 election.