Saturday, June 29, 2024

"How 'Rural Studies' is Thinking about the Heartland" in the NYT

That's the headline for a feature story by Emma Goldberg in the New York Times.  The subhead is "What’s the matter with America’s rural voters? Many scholars believe that the question itself is the problem."

Goldberg's story leads with a mini profile of Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.  Goldberg tells of how Lunz Trujillo, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, felt alienated culturally when she headed off to Carleton College as a college freshman.  (And a lot of scholars who grew up in rural America have probably had similar experiences; I'm reminded of this 2006 essay, "Farming Made Her Stupid.").

Some excerpts from Goldberg's feature story follow: 

A Rural Renaissance

There is an obvious reason for academics’ neglect of the political urban-rural divide until recently: It barely existed.

From the 1970s to the early 1990s, rural counties resembled urban ones in their presidential choices, including supporting the Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan and the Democrat Bill Clinton. It’s only since the late 1990s that there has been a marked gap between rural and urban voting patterns in presidential elections, and it has widened ever since. In 2016, Mr. Trump won 59 percent of rural voters. Four years later, that climbed to 65 percent, according to Pew. And in the 2022 midterms, Republicans won 69 percent of the rural vote.
* * *
[R]ural communities can be wildly different socially. “When you aggregate to the national level, you lose so much,” said Zoe Nemerever, a political scientist at Utah Valley University. “I get frustrated especially when people talk about rural America as white America. In some states, it’s Latino America. In the Deep South, it’s Black America.”

Traditionally, political scientists argued that measuring the effects of place was just a proxy for looking at other parts of identity, like race or education. And because many did not come from rural areas, growing up rural didn’t tend to strike academics as a salient part of political identity.

Maybe because so few people fashioned themselves as “rural political experts” until recently, the few high-profile explanations for the rise of rural Republicanism were widely embraced by the chattering classes.

Goldberg discusses how Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas (2004) fueled some of the current generation of political scientists who are creating more nuanced narratives about rural voters based on carefully designed empirical research.  

Michael Shepherd read the book in high school, college and again in graduate school, and never changed his opinion. “I felt like it was pretty snooty,” said Mr. Shepherd, now a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who grew up in Bardstown, Ky., the heart of bourbon making. “It really missed a lot of what was going on in communities like mine.”

And here's a great quote from Nick Jacobs, co-author of The Rural Voter (Columbia University Press 2023), a book that has attracted considerable attention.  

We contribute to the further denigration of expertise when we say, ‘This is what the experts say about these rubes and bumpkins.'  Who’s going to trust the experts when that’s what the experts have to say about you?

Importantly, Goldberg picks up on one of the key points Jacobs made following publication of Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman's White Rural Rage (and Paul Krugman's columns also using the word "rage" to describe rural white folks):  the distinction between resentment and rage. 

My beef with this Goldberg article:  she conflates "rural studies" with political science scholars who focus on rural voters.  That completely ignores the very robust discipline of rural sociology.  

You'll find lots of commentary on The Rural Voter and White Rural Rage (2024) here and here, among other posts on this blog. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Aging and population loss in small-town Pennsylvania

That's the topic of Tim Crane's story in the Washington Post last weekend, "'Too many old people’: A rural Pa. town reckons with population loss."  Here's an excerpt from the report, dateline Sheffield, Pennsylvania, a census-designated place with a population of 1,123

Across rural Pennsylvania, there is a deepening sense of fear about the future as population loss accelerates. The sharp decline has put the state at the forefront of a national discussion on the viability of the small towns that have long been a pillar of American culture.

America’s rural population began contracting about a decade ago, according to statistics drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A whopping 81 percent of rural counties had more deaths than births between 2019 and 2023, according to an analysis by a University of New Hampshire demographer. Experts who study the phenomena say the shrinking baby boomer population and younger residents having smaller families and moving elsewhere for jobs are fueling the trend.

According to a recent Agriculture Department estimate, the rural population did rebound by 0.25 percent from 2020 to 2022 as some families decamped from urban areas during the pandemic. But demographers say they are still evaluating whether that trend will continue, and if so, where.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Do progressives care about rural voters?

That's the provocative question animating Jeffrey Bloodworth's essay in today's Washington Post (picked up from UnHerd).  Here's the lede: 

“The Democratic Party doesn’t give a sh-- about what voters have to say.” Eva Posner, a Virginia-based Democratic political consultant, is furious. She fears that the progressive establishment will pay in 2024 for snubbing rural voters.

And here are some key excerpts: 

The trouble is that rural voters are difficult to reach. In the 1990s, liberals all but ceded talk radio to conservatives, an act of foolishness, given the platform is crucial to connecting with a car-loving population. Soon after, the internet transformed the economics of newspapers: Nearly 3,000 American newspapers have folded since 2005. Rural newspapers were hit especially hard. Today, more than half of all U.S. counties have very limited, if any, access to local news. On top of this, nearly a quarter of rural Americans lack broadband internet. How can they keep up with Washington politics while living in a media vacuum?

Despite these obstacles, Democrats can move the electoral needle in rural America. They don’t even need to win a majority of the rural vote — just reduce the margin of defeat. Barron points to Arizona’s 2020 U.S. Senate election: In a race in which Democrat Mark Kelly spent nearly $100 million, compared with Republican Martha McSally’s $72 million, Barron says it was a $20,000 rural radio advertisement that turned the tide. Unlike many Democratic candidates in the past, Kelly took more than 30 percent of the vote in every rural Arizona county, bar one. This turned out to be vital in a race decided by about 78,000 votes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Boebert wins Republican primary in Colorado's eastern plains district


Congressperson Lauren Boebert famously abandoned her (mostly) western slope 3d district of Colorado  several months ago to vie for the Republican nomination in the differently rural--and arguably more conservative--4th district.  She did so after Ken Buck retired from that district.

Today, Boebert won the 4th district Republican primary.  Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post's story:  
The seat in the 4th District, which covers much of Colorado’s eastern half, was vacant after Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) resigned in March. There was also a special election Tuesday to finish Buck’s term, but Boebert chose not to run in it, and the Republican nominee, Greg Lopez, did not run against Boebert for a full term.


Despite the new district — her old district covered the other side of the state — Boebert brought some notable advantages to the primary. She had Trump’s endorsement and led the field in fundraising since April 1, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Boebert’s primary opponents included Republicans with stronger ties to the district. One was Jerry Sonnenberg, a Logan County commissioner who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for the special election.
Boebert celebrated the win in a social media post, saying, “This victory belongs to the faithful voters of Colorado’s 4th district.”
Elsewhere, in Boebert's current 3d district:
Democrat Adam Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member, came within 600 votes of unseating Boebert two years ago and is running again in the 3rd District.

Frisch ran unopposed in his primary Tuesday, but he waged a serious effort to influence the Republican primary with Boebert no longer running. Frisch and an outside group ran ads that appeared designed to elevate one of the GOP candidates, Ron Hanks, with his primary voters.

Hanks is a former state representative who has echoed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and attended the rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Despite the interference, Hanks finished a distant second, losing to attorney Jeff Hurd. 

Postscript:  Here is coverage of the race from The Colorado Sun.  The headline and subhead follow: 

Lauren Boebert wins six-way primary in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, making her reelection highly probable

Because of how favorable the 4th District is to Republicans, Boebert is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, too

And here's a key quote: 

“Boebert won because there was such a crowded primary and she has universal name ID,” said former state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican who was supporting Sonnenberg [another Republican candidate in the primary]. “Had Boebert had a head to head with almost any of the other five, she would have lost.”

Further postscript: Here's more Colorado Sun analysis from Thursday, June 27:  

Boebert’s share of the vote in the 4th District Republican primary was holding steady Wednesday afternoon at 43% as the final ballots were being counted. She won in all but six of the district’s 21 counties. One of her county-level wins was in Douglas County, the district’s population center.
* * *
The 4th District is a Republican stronghold.

Former U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican, won his last two elections in the district by 23 percentage points each. The district’s voters backed Republican Cory Gardner by 23 percentage points in Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton by a 24-point margin in 2018 and Donald Trump by a 30-point margin in 2016.

A nonpartisan analysis of election results in the district dating back to 2016 conducted by state redistricting staffers estimated the district leans 27 percentage points in the GOP’s favor.

By comparison, the 3rd District, which Boebert currently represents, was estimated to have a 9 percentage point lean in the GOP’s favor. Trump’s margin of victory there in 2016 was 8 points.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Guardian publishes two-part series on Los Angeles' continuing control over California's Owens Valley

Don't miss Katie Licari's excellent, in-depth reporting here and here.  She is writing about the long-term consequences of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP)'s secretly buying up Owens Valley water rights decades ago.  In short, LA DWP still owns so much land in the Owen's Valley, part of the Eastern Sierra, that both public and private entities there remain beholden to this Los Angeles entity.

The first story focuses on how LADWP is hurting private enterprise in the Owens Valley, where it is the landlord for so many businesses.  A short excerpt follows: 

The land under [Mike] Allen’s [feed and outdoor supply] store belongs to an owner 300 miles away: the city of Los Angeles, specifically its department of water and power (DWP).

LA has owned large swathes of the Owens valley, where Bishop is located, for more than a century. The city first swooped in in the early 1900s, at the dawn of California’s water wars. As the metropolis grew at breakneck speed, its leaders searched for ways to sustain that population, and when they entered the Owens valley, they found what LA lacked: plenty of water.
* * *
Today, DWP owns 90% of privately available land in Inyo county, which encompasses the Owens valley, and 30% of all the land in neighboring Mono county. Aqueducts transporting water from both counties provided 395,000 acre-feet of water to LA last year – about 73% of the city’s water supply.

Stories of LA’s brazen land grab in the Owens valley have been told for decades – it was loosely depicted in the 1974 film Chinatown. And the fierce legal battles that have ensued, including over the environmental impact, have made regional headlines for years.

But residents, business owners, and some municipal leaders in this rural region say LA’s landownership in the valley has taken on a new, and crippling, dimension in recent years.

DWP has taken steps to exert even greater control over its land holdings in the valley. An AfroLA review of hundreds of documents obtained through records requests, as well as interviews with municipal officials, residents, legal experts and business owners, reveals DWP started changing the terms of leases in 2015, and formally added restrictions on the transfer of leases from one owner to the next in 2016.

DWP’s moves have meant that hundreds of families who have built lives in the Eastern Sierra region have seen their plans upended, often being left with the stark choice of abandoning their livelihoods or fighting DWP.

The second story is about how LADWP is hurting public infrastructure, like airports, by ham stringing the ability of local government agencies to make necessary repairs and improvements.  Here's more:  

Two rural California airports that are crucial to local air ambulance services, firefighting efforts and search and rescue operations are unable to perform critical repairs, blocked by an agency 300 miles away: the city of Los Angeles.

The airports are two of several major pieces of infrastructure in California’s Owens valley left in disrepair because of LA policies, an investigation by AfroLA, the Sheet and the Guardian reveals.

Los Angeles has owned large swaths of Inyo county, where the Owens valley is located, for more than a century. With ownership of the land comes rights to its water – water that is key to servicing the thirsty metropolis of 3.8 million people. Aqueducts carrying water from Inyo and neighbouring Mono county to LA provided 73% of the city’s water supply last year.

Today the Los Angeles department of water and power (DWP) owns 90% of privately available land in Inyo county, the majority of which it leases back to the county, its residents, business owners and ranchers.

But in recent years, county officials say, DWP has refused their applications to renew long-term leases, including those for the land that includes county airports, landfills and campgrounds.

An analysis of tax records shows nearly every DWP lease held by Inyo county is expired. More than 60% of leases between the county and DWP have been expired for more than a decade, and half of those have been expired since the aughts.

Without these long-term leases, the officials say, the county cannot apply for state and federal funding that supports critical infrastructure work. With fewer than 20,000 residents and a limited tax base, the county does not have the funds to bankroll those projects itself.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Australian state proposes student debt relief for lawyers willing to practice in rural places

"Bold new plan to get more lawyers to go to the bush," is the headline for this radio story by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last week.  That "bold" plan involves helping lawyers pay their student loans if they're practicing in a rural, remote or regional area of Australia.  

Here's the promotional blurb: 

There's a dire shortage of lawyers in regional Australia and it's having devastating impacts on people’s everyday lives. One group is proposing a bold plan to try and entice lawyers to ditch the city and go bush. Brett McGrath is President of the Law Society of New South Wales and he tells ABC Newsradio’s Tom Oriti about how waiving student debt could make a big difference.
Here's a compelling excerpt from the interview, after the interviewee, Brett McGrath, notes the disparity between what solicitors can earn in the city and in the country: 
We have some solicitors in rural and regional New South Wales who are paying admin assistants more than they're paying themselves because they're trying to meet overheads week to week, and we are the most heavily regulated profession in the country.  We have ethical obligations.  We have reporting requirements.  And most [solicitors] are employing people.  They're employers so they have to go through workplace employment legislation.  They have all these obligations so they're really struggling to make  ends meet. ... 

I'm the President of the Law Society.  It took me seven years working full time in southwest Sydney and working as a lecturer at a university--so working a second job--it took me seven years to pay off A$40,000 in Hecs.  So you can imagine... A$70,000 is the average now... so with cost of living pressures and rental and all those sort of things... it's a big problem and that's why we think this is a solution that can address that need, particularly for rural and regional areas and make it really attractive for solicitors to come and set their practices up.  
Interviewer:  
If you're a lawyer who will go to the regions to help ease that shortage you'll get your HECS-help fees waived, and if you've already made contributions, they're refunded.  Is that right? 
McGrath:
So, it has its anchor point from the Commonwealth's own review into legal assistance which called for having solicitors who moved to rural, regional and remote areas as a baseline having 45% of their work legal aid work or they work for a Community Legal Centre ... We say that should be a baseline.  We think at the Law Society of New South Wales that should be taken to the next level because of what we're seeing on the ground in rural and regional areas of New South Wales but also across the country that it should be extended to anyone who wants to move to set their practice up and start their careers in regional areas should have their hex waived.  
There are similar schemes to attract teachers, to attract doctors and nurses to regional areas.... We see law and access to justice as a critical part of our infrastructure and services we provide.  
Lismore (New South Wales) is a great example where in disaster zones people are in trouble ... they reach out.  Who do they turn to?  They turn to their solicitor when they're in need. 
Interviewer: 
Have you put that [expensive proposal for debt relief] to the government?  Have you had any response? 
McGrath:  
We've suggested that it'll cost about A$6 million in the first year, and that's ... for the base program.  The first port of call is to have those with 45% of their work in legal aid and in Community Legal Centres so that's about A$6 million and we've put that to the federal government and the Law Council of Australia has ... put that forward as a proposal to the commonwealth.  
Interviewer:  
Any Response?  
McGrath:  
We're waiting on a response.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A novel approach to (literally) meeting criminal justice system-involved individuals where they are

NPR reported last week from Aneth, Utah, in the state's southeast corner.  That's part of the Dine (Navajo) nation, and the story features a novel program for easing the burden of criminal justice-system involved individuals' engagement with the federal court based hours away in Salt Lake City.  The headline is "Utah, hoping for tangible results on recidivism, is looking for possible solutions."  

Tilda Wilson reports on the work of U.S Magistrate Judge, Dustin Pead and federal parole officer who are going to where the system-involved individuals are, rather than expecting the individuals to come to them, hours away in other corners of the state:  
Aneth, Utah, is a tiny town on the Navajo Nation, surrounded by a beautiful landscape of red rocks and desert. On a chilly winter morning, it was just starting to rain at the Aneth Chapter House, a sort of reservation town hall. Today, U.S. magistrate Judge Dustin Pead is holding court here.

DUSTIN PEAD: The district is quite large. We don't have a probation officer located in the area.

WILSON: Pead drove six hours to be here, about 350 miles from the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. He comes down once a month to check in on people under court supervision. In Salt Lake, there's a lot more drug and mental health treatment available to help people when they get out of prison. Out here, those things are hard to come by. Pead says it makes sense that it's so much more difficult to get out of bad patterns of crime. So nine years ago, Pead started bringing court to the reservation, traveling with probation officers, a prosecutor and a public defender. It's called Tribal Community Reentry Court.

PEAD: It would be the first reentry court that we had heard of that would actually travel to people instead of having people travel to the court.

WILSON: Pead, the lawyers and probation officers are able to spend face-to-face time building rapport with each supervisee and their loved ones.

PEAD: I want them to have trust that we want them to grow. I'm not waiting to catch them in a violation. So for me, that's frequently calling them by their first name, giving accolades, knowing them, knowing their family, communicating with their family during court.

WILSON: It's working. The federal court says the recidivism rate has dropped to just 6% for people who participate in the Tribal Reentry Court. Cordell Wilson is a parole officer who has been working on the Navajo Nation since 2002. He's based 5 1/2 hours away in St. George. He used to only be able to visit people on the Navajo Nation every three months or so when something went wrong. Now visiting monthly, Wilson says he's able to build trust with the people he works with. He says it works a lot better.

Friday, June 14, 2024

In Wisconsin, Democrats aren't neglecting rural voters. It may be making a difference

The Washington Post reported a few days ago under the headline, "In Wisconsin, Biden tries to hold on to White voters without degrees." As if often the case in reporting and in our national imaginary, the white working class (here, those without college degrees) gets conflated with rurality.  This article discusses both.  Bottom line:  the Wisconsin Democratic Party is not neglecting rural America--and has set up offices in many nonmetropolitan counties, but Joe Biden is still focusing his attention on urban areas.  

Here are the excerpts with the word "rural" in them: 
Wisconsin Democrats attribute part of Biden’s relative strength with White voters without degrees to a rural progressive tradition that has faded but not disappeared — and part of it to tenacious organizing, including in rural areas where many of those voters live.
* * * *
Biden’s campaign is relying on an existing base of volunteers who know how to reach voters who might be willing to back him. Local Democrats send out 1,000 to 1,400 handwritten postcards each election to reach voters in rural areas whose doors are hard to knock on, Sandy Rindy said.
* * * *
Biden’s strategy: Out-organize Trump

Biden’s strategy for winning Wisconsin is built around state Democrats’ year-round, volunteer-run door-knocking operation. Most of Biden’s campaign offices are in counties Trump won in 2020 but where Biden outperformed given the underlying demographics.

Biden lost rural Lafayette County, where he has an office in tiny Darlington, by 14 points in 2020. But he ran 19 percent stronger there than one would expect based on the share of its population that is White and does not have a bachelor’s degree, according to a Post analysis.

“When you’ve got a Democratic Party office in a small town, it’s much easier to get people engaged,” said Tanya Bjork, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign in Wisconsin who has worked on the past four presidential campaigns there. “And getting more people engaged means more doors and more phone calls and more conversations.”

Biden has campaigned in only one county Trump won in Wisconsin, and some Democrats grouse that they would like to see more of him in rural areas.

Tammy Baldwin wins, but she works the state,” said John Waelti, a retired economist who writes a column for the Monroe Times. “She always has hard hats and farmers in her photos. When Biden and [Vice President] Harris come, it’s Milwaukee and Madison.”

Most of Biden’s 11 trips to Wisconsin since taking office have been to Milwaukee or Madison, although he’s traveled twice to Superior, a city of about 26,000 in northern Wisconsin where the infrastructure law he signed is funding the rebuilding of the John A. Blatnik Bridge. 

“It’ll be up to their campaign to bring [accomplishments like the infrastructure law] from the macro level of visionary policy to benefit generations to come to the micro level,” she said. “What did it do in Green County?”
Baldwin said she has encouraged Biden to campaign across the state.

Rural resentment over neglect (perceived or real) was a theme first associated with Wisconsin after the 2016 election.  It was described in Kathy Cramer's book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker


You'll find lots of related content here on the blog under the labels rural politics (446 posts) and rural vote (571 posts).  


Thursday, June 13, 2024

Adam Schiff, candidate for U.S. Senator from California, campaigns in the rural reaches of the Golden State?

I received this email from Adam Schiff on June 2.  He's touting the rural outreach of "No Dem Left Behind"--as well as his own rural outreach.  I was surprised by the latter.  Here's the text of the email:  

Lisa, this is Rep. Adam Schiff. My friends at No Dem Left Behind asked me to reach out to you.

Democrats have historically lost ground in rural America since the 90's. We've got to reach those folks and show them that Democrats are just as committed to fighting for jobs, healthcare, and other priorities in rural America as we are in every other part of the country. I’m campaigning in all the rural areas of California, and we need to do the same outreach everywhere in the nation.
Lisa - watch the video below, then split a donation between my campaign and No Dem Left Behind to help us win across rural America!

We can win in rural America, but only with your support. Split a donation today between my campaign and No Dem Left Behind's efforts to win the rural vote for Democrats across the country.

I'm now on the look out for Schiff's campaign appearances in rural places.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

How summer brings rural and urban together, and the opportunity that presents

Karen Tolkkinen, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, wrote a few days ago about an aspect of rural-urban difference.  Specifically, she writes about how summer, when tourists from cities flock to "greater Minnesota" (meaning everything that's not the Twin Cities, but especially rural places), provides an opportunity for bridging the rural-urban divide. 

They talk about an urban-rural divide — economic, political — and maybe patience is another. We here in rural America are accustomed to waiting for plants to grow, for livestock to mature, for the fish to bite. A place steeped in farming culture places less importance on instant gratification, on rushing and rushing, unless the corn is ready to combine and there's snow in the forecast. Waiting provides a chance to think about things, to observe the world around you, to breathe.

* * *  

Now that summer is well underway in greater Minnesota, tourists are flooding into all regions of the state. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, they will fill the restaurants and hotels, line the streets of small towns for parades and swell the audiences of community theater. The dollars they bring help pay for rent or tuition or groceries. These dollars are meaningful, and this column is not intended to diminish the importance of tourism or tourists in greater Minnesota. For every sourpuss, there are a dozen happy campers.

I just ask that kindness prevail.

Summer tourism brings urban and rural together like no other time of the year. It's a chance to get to know each other, to listen to each other's perspective, to absorb new ideas and build respect for the places we are from. It can be used to heal our divides, to realize that we're all Minnesotans and we're all in this together.

Greater Minnesota is more than spectacular waterfalls or wake surfing or tubing. Greater Minnesota is also the people who live here year-round and who are often scraping by financially or are working toward big dreams of our own or are worried about a loved one who has been depressed and has to wait a month to see a therapist.

* * *  

[N]obody is a social underling. You realize that when you live in a rural area.

Are rural folks more patient?  I don't know, but a 2022 Washington Post essay on rural reticence, which may be related, stuck with me.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

On seeing rural difference--and rural need--in relation to higher education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has recently been turning out quite a bit of content about rural institutions and rural students.  In short, it's been paying attention to rural difference in relation to a range of issues related to higher education.  

First, here's a feature on Building the Rural Workforce.  An excerpt follows: 

Rural workforces are typically specialized, focusing on engineering, manufacturing, or healthcare, to name a few. This makes education all the more important.

In this Multimedia Case Study, learn how colleges, like Zane State College in rural Ohio, are working to prepare rural work forces for success. Explore the virtual forum, audio takeaways, and written case study to gain insight into building programs that support rural work forces.

* * * 

How rural colleges meet the needs of nontraditional students

At Zane State College, a rural school in Ohio, 67 percent of students work while enrolled in classes.

At Patrick & Henry Community College in Virginia, students seek strategies to build and sustain their own businesses.

From workforce development initiatives to entrepreneurship boot camps, these two institutions have found creative ways to support their students and benefit the local economy.
Here's another bit of coverage featuring a video titled, "What counts as a rural college?" An excerpt from the description follows:

Weak educational achievement runs like a fault line through rural American economies. Eighty-five percent of American counties with low educational attainment are rural, and far fewer young adults in rural areas are enrolled in higher education than those in urban or suburban areas.

This educational disparity has far-reaching consequences, as the rural counties with the lowest levels of educational achievement have the highest levels of poverty, unemployment, and population loss.


Clearly, rural colleges — which include community colleges, religious and other private liberal-arts colleges, branch campuses of public universities, and tribally controlled colleges — are vital. And yet many grapple with shrinking funding and enrollments.

This piece is also being promoted under the heading, "The Changing Landscape of Rural America," per a recent promotional email.   

And here's a feature advertising a virtual forum that will take place later today, "College Partnerships to Fuel Rural Development."  Here's the description: 

Rural colleges are often hundreds of miles from other higher-education institutions, so they must form partnerships outside the sector to achieve their goals.

In this virtual forum, Liz McMillen, The Chronicle’s executive editor, will moderate a discussion on how to navigate rural challenges and effectively train the future work force, including:
  • Employee partnerships.
  • Nonprofit partnerships.
  • Rural-development efforts.

These first three items are very pragmatic, but the Chronicle also recently published a feature story out of exurban Kansas City, Missouri (Weston, population 1,756) under the headline, "A Small Town, Two Students, and Different College Dreams."  It's about two men from the high school Class of 2024, both pursuing higher education but heading in distinctly different directions.  One is Nolan Cook, who will head to a community college in Nebraska to train to become a John Deere mechanic.   The other is Luke Shafter, who will head to the University of Oklahoma's aviation school, where he will train to become a pilot.  

Cook comments on his decision:  

If it weren’t for the job training, he says, he wouldn’t have wanted to spend any more time in school: “We don’t have that much time here on Earth. Sitting in a classroom for another four years or six years wasn’t a happy thought for me.”

Cook is already working on fixing up the old house he plans to live in when he returns to Weston.  He has been deeply influenced by one of his teachers, who helped connect him to job training and part-time employment at a nearby John Deere dealer.   

Shafer had a different attitude, commenting, “it was always an expectation for me to go to college — always."  Later he is quoted, "I’d like to see the whole world, if possible. I’d like to climb Kilimanjaro.'”

I found interesting the roles of the families of these two young men in their decision making.  Cook's family appears to be more religious, as a photograph shows them praying over dinner.  Shafer's parents have more formal education.  Cook's father was a mechanic until he was injured.  Shafer's father is a judge; his mother also has a college degree. 

On the role of rurality and attachment to place, Shafer says he "understands why Weston 'has a way of holding people in and bringing people back,' but he has no plans to return home to settle down — at least not anytime soon."

This is a rich portrait of two young rural men and the forces compelling them to move in different--which is not to say opposite--directions.  After all, both are pursuing tertiary education, and that's more unusual in rural America than in urban locales.  

Postscript:  The Chronicle was promoting this video on "Reaching Rural Students" by email on June 12, 2024.  Here's a description of the item: 

A group of college recruiters from the Small Town and Rural Students [STARS] College Network traveled throughout rural southeastern America, making extra efforts to build and expand opportunities.

Here's an excerpt from it: 

The Small Town and Rural Students (STARS) College Network, a partnership of 16 colleges across the country, is dedicated to finding, reaching out to, and supporting [rural] students.... Founded two years ago, the network includes the California Institute of Technology and colleges including Columbia, Yale, Ohio State, and Vanderbilt Universities.

We want to help “small-town and rural students to get them to our colleges, but also through our colleges,” says John Palmer Rea, an admissions officer at Vanderbilt University and the STARS program director.

I like this quote from STARS recruiter Palmer Rea:  

There’s something to be said for all of those kinds of things you just learn by being in a small-town community, because a college is kind of a small town.

Monday, June 10, 2024

On rurality as a place to hide

Here's an excerpt from a New York Times essay on the capture of Ted Kaczynski, the homegrown terrorist known as the Unabomber, nearly three decades ago in a remote corner of Montana. The author of this piece, Maxim Loskutoff, who has written a novel based on Kaczynski's life.  Loskutoff grew up in Montana, about 80 miles from where Kaczynski was in hiding.  This is a rich essay, which I commend in its entirety.  I was particularly taken with this depiction of Kaczynski's hideout, which captures part of what I wrote in "The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space," about the potential of rurality to conceal: 

The sudden media attention [to Kaczynski] hinted at the answers. I heard the words “cabin,” “remote” and “wilderness” repeated on the evening news with an increasingly romantic luster. I began to see how people on the coasts viewed my home state: as a wilderness of possibility. A refuge for ruffians, seekers, dropouts, dreamers and the occasional psychopath. Someplace you could go if things didn’t work out. T-shirts and coffee mugs bearing the slogan “The Last Best Place to Hide” popped up in local souvenir stores.

My "Rural Lawscape" chapter was published in The Expanding Spaces of Law:  A Timely Legal Geography (Stanford University Press 2014).  Another post that centers this issue of law's struggle to police remote places, as well as the high cost of doing so, is here.  

Friday, June 7, 2024

On the distinction between the rural lawyer shortage and the rural ATJ crisis

Daria Fisher Page and Brian Farrell of the University of Iowa wrote recently in Law 360 under the headline, "Behind The Unique Hurdles Of Rural Access To Justice."  Here's the gist of their argument, which is a shorter version of their recently published article in the Washington Law Review.  
We argue, however, that rural access to justice challenges and the rural attorney decline have become conflated and viewed as a single crisis in which the declining number of attorneys is understood to be the cause of the rural access to justice problem, and recruiting new attorneys is therefore the preferred solution.

Moreover, these conclusions have often been reached in the absence of agreed-upon definitions of "rural" or "access to justice." We view the rural attorney shortage and rural access to justice as distinct but related phenomena.

Much of the entanglement comes from the fact that access to justice has often been, quite simplistically, measured by reference to attorneys per capita or attorneys per county.

This usage reflects both a narrow understanding of what access to justice means and the fact that, unlike other potential metrics, data on licensed attorneys has been cheaply and readily available from regulating authorities.

The romantic view of the accessible, though generalist, Main Street lawyer may persist. But research shows a growing gap between the needs of low-income rural clients and available private legal services in rural communities.

An attorney is a poor measure of access to justice if their skills and expertise don't match the needs of the community or their services aren't affordable.
Increasingly, access to justice scholars and policymakers have recognized that access to justice is not synonymous with access to lawyers.

Instead, the focus has been to better understand the likelihood individuals in a given location will encounter justice problems and their actual legal needs when they do. An inquiry into rural access to justice focused on people's needs, the outcomes they're looking for and how they want to be treated will allow for the implementation of interventions that best match these needs.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

What school choice looks like in rural Arkansas: Tiny district turns to YouTube and Facebook ads to attract students

School choice is a topic I've been interested in for some time, certainly since school consolidation was mandated in Arkansas in the early aughts.  I wrote about it here in 2012.  During a recent visit to Arkansas for the April eclipse, I saw the electronic billboards at schools in Cotter and Bee Branch touting their schools in that context--that is, they were recruiting students. As I observed back in 2012, I find this curious given that rural students typically already must travel inconvenient distances to get to the nearest school, so it's always struck me as unlikely that students (and their parents) would choose to travel greater distances to a neighboring school district.  

More recently, "school choice" is back in the news because of the proliferation of voucher programs that permit parents to use public tax money to send their children to private schools, including religious ones.  The Washington Post ran a big feature on the topic a few days ago.

Now, I see in my hometown Newton County Times (May 8, 2024 issue; no link is available on the newspaper's website) that the tiny Deer/Mt. Judea School District there is engaged in an advertisement streaming campaign to reach prospective students who might choose the school.  Deer/Mt Judea is perennially on the verge of closure due to falling below the enrollment threshold.  (That was the topic of this 2011 post) The school board engaged A4 Advertising, a "national advertising and data company that provides audience-based multiscreen advertising solutions."  The company is targeting only households with children aged 4 to 18.  The ad executive, Tonda Mixon, proposed sending ads about the school's "latest curriculum of drone technology, cave exploration and study as well as its more established distance learning program to designated households within a 50-mile radius of the school district."  

At the April 25 board meeting, the board got data about the 15-second and 30-second commericals that have been running on YouTube.  The ads have been streamed 48,000 times, and the VCR (Video Completion Rate is 96% and 97%). The ads are not skippable, which lends to a higher VCR rate, though viewers could still click away from the website when they see the ad come up.  Most of the advertisements are being viewed on television sets rahte rhtan on computers and tablets, Mixon reported.  

The superintendent said the school is now looking at doing "some Facebook advertising and boosting to generate about 27,000 additional views."  The board will decide over the next few months how hard it wants to push the different ads.  The school board president said he expects to see the fruits of the advertising effort in six to eight months.  The story reports that "Patrons of the school district voiced their concerns that the school board wasn't doing enough to promote the schools and raise the district's enrollment numbers." 

The story explains that the "drone technology and caving programs were recently added to the district's curriculum based on student interest.  The school district pioneered digital learning prior to the COVID-19 pandemic when schools suddenly had to initiate distance learning programs for their stay-at-home students.  That reduced the number of students enrolled in Deer-Mt. Judea's program.  However, schools have begun to abandon distance learning in favor of returning to tradition in-person teaching.  The school district's digital program has rebounded and recently the program's director said all of the existing student slots were full."  

In other business, the school board authorized the purchase of 300 Chromebooks for $96,528, which will come from federal funds.  Currently, the school has "stacks of expired units," an apparent reference to the fact they "can be updated only so often."  It was reported that two or three of the Chromebooks are turned in each day for repair.  After gathering three bids for the purchase, the school negotiated to get the devices for less than $300/each. 

In other front page news from the May 8, 2024 issue were these headlines: 

  • Senate approves new regulations for crypto mining (republishing a press release from the Arkansas Senate)
  • Administrative office of the Courts delivers naloxone kits (several employees of the administrative office of the court, a circuit judge, and drug court personnel are pictured with the story)
  • Despite bad weather Career and Info Fair reigns in Bradley Park.   An accompanying photos features two employees of the Newton County Sheriff's Office, the jail administrator and a deputy.  a jailer position is currently open.  Health insurance benefits are included.  
  • Waterfall tour May 11.  This Spring Waterfall Chasing Back Road Tour is sponsored by Jasper Advertising and Promotion Commission, and the cost is $50/vehicle. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Rural women attorneys comment on work-life balance

Danielle C. Forseth and Melissa Luna wrote in the Advocate, the Idaho State Bar Magazine, last fall about "Women Attorneys and Achieving Work/Life Balance in Rural Idaho."  Here's an excerpt about Idaho State Bar geo-demographics generally:
Idaho has a total of 5,474 active attorneys of which 4,005 reside or have an office in-state.  Idaho’s Fourth Judicial District represents 2,226 of these active and in-state attorneys, leaving 1,779 attorneys to serve the remainder of Idaho. In comparison, Idaho’s Sixth Judicial District claims 189 active, in-state attorneys. In 2020, the ABA reported “two-thirds of [Idaho] counties (29 of 44) have less than one lawyer per 1,000 residents, including three counties with no lawyers at all and two counties with only one lawyer.”For every 1,000 residents, Idaho has 2.2 attorneys. The number of attorneys available to enter into attorney-client relationships with local residents shrinks once prosecutors, city attorneys, and county attorneys are subtracted from available attorneys. Further, the “graying of the bar,” or many attorneys who are older and nearing retirement or retiring within the ISB, adds to the scarcity of rural attorneys. 
And this is what the authors wrote about opportunities in the state's rural-ish counties.  They both practice in Moscow, population 24,000, and home to the University of Idaho.  Moscow is the county seat of Latah County, with a population of nearly 40,000.
Danelle Forseth joined long-time Moscow attorney Ronald Landeck in 2011 full-time after having worked part-time for several years to care for two children until they reached school-age. Melissa Luna joined the law firm in 2015 after working as an in-house civil rights investigator for colleges and universities. She landed in Moscow when her spouse took a position in the region. Danelle recalls:

“Melissa and I graduated from law school together. We had been chatting about job opportunities in Idaho when she said she would be moving to Moscow. I urged her to meet with Ron and me and consider coming to work with us as we had a tremendous need for another attorney to serve our clients. In my experience, there is never a shortage of people or businesses in need of legal assistance in our community.”

Another rural attorney, Susan Wilson, who has mostly practiced as a solo practitioner, also enjoys working in small towns in Idaho.  She states:
“I have more than enough clients to support my lifestyle. I think attorneys in small towns will always be busy – just the nature of having a general practice and conflicts of interest with other attorneys – the whole supply and demand model is very much applicable to attorneys and just like any other market restriction, we have conflicts of interests that force involving other counsel. I’m not even talking about litigation – even transactional attorneys, estate planning attorneys, probates, etc. Every area of law.”

In the authors’ practices, there are enough billable hours to cover expenses and pay themselves salaries above the annual mean wage earned by all attorneys in Idaho. In fact, at different times of the year, they must decline cases to keep their caseloads at a manageable level. In addition, author Melissa has also qualified as a Parenting Coordinator under the Family Law Rules of Procedure and works with parents to make decisions after the entry of a custody decree. 
Another local attorney, solo practitioner Jennifer Ewers, offers other types of legal services to the community, such as mediation services. She comments, “As a mediator, I hope I am helping the community by providing a service that allows parties to resolve family law and other disputes in a less contentious and costly forum than court, and that leaves the outcome of the process in their hands.”.

So little has been written about female lawyers practicing in the rural United States.  That made me especially happy to see these reflections recorded, even though the authors are not writing much that is explicitly gendered.  As much as anything, the story seems to confirm that there's plenty of business for small-town attorneys--at least in "small towns" the size of Moscow, which isn't all that small.