Rural poverty

What differentiates rural poverty from other types of poverty?

One crucial difference is distance. Distance from what?

Various services, such as:

  • transportation (getting it, getting roads cleared, maintained, etc.)
  • health care (rural populations tend to be older, have lower incomes, may have more health-related needs)
  • social welfare (difficulties of getting services in outlying areas, being aware of service availability)
  • shopping
  • school (after school activities, transportation, friends/socializing, special needs, poor, underfunded districts)
  • communications
    • telecommunications, including phone, Internet, cable, etc., may be limited, inadequate, or priced high because of a lack of competition
    • If telephone service is limited, might this pose a problem with research using telephone surveys?
  • garbage
  • fire protection, law enforcement (did you know that Union County is among the top counties in the country for rates of unsolved murders?)

The local economy may be less diversified; less job opportunities, greater dependence on one or two industries

  • What about La Grande, surrounding areas? What drives this economy? Who are the main employers?

Other issues (drawing from Fitchen)

  • Unforeseen problems, expenses (e.g., the BK woman and her car … )
  • Domestic violence
  • Mutual aid? (e.g., the example of borrowing the telephone), but still often a mistrust of neighbors
  • Marriage trap-for Mary, her husband was no angel, but she had to consider the alternative of single motherhood;
  • Hard workers-she’s way behind, but they’re resource poor; he’s handy. In other words, they’re economically productive, but not in ways that the labor market rewards.
  • Social welfare-on again off again, there are eligibility issues, changing requirements, ambiguities. These are all more difficult to deal with without a telephone, and in rural areas. Mary’s husband doesn’t want to be on welfare (she thinks it would help), because of the stigma.
  • ‘Job trap’-With low education levels, a narrow range of marketable job skills, and transportation difficulties (need to have, maintain car, more expenses), employment options for rural residents may be limited.
  • Invisibility–do we see rural poverty? Well, maybe many of us don’t see urban poverty either, but rural poverty may be even less visible, and it may be ‘statistically’ less visible. What does this mean?

How much of the above is distinctly rural, or merely a symptom of poverty?

Broader issues

Economic transformations

Extractive economies haven’t fared well-that is, those depending on the local natural resource base (timber, ranching, farming, mining, etc.)

  • international competition (for example, raw logs may be exported to Asia rather than processed at local mills, mineral prices can fluctuate and affect local job markets, Wal-Marts can undercut local businesses, etc.)
  • Pennsylvania mining and steel manufacturing is a good example-internationally it can’t compete with cheap steel from China, for instance. Steel-related industries close, pollution from decades of anthracite mining makes communities unattractive for other sorts of economic activities;
  • timber-overcutting of public and private lands (that is, cutting the trees faster than they’re growing), combined with things like the endangered species listing of the Northern Spotted Owl, which locked up areas of timber in their habitat, have limited timber supply. In addition, lumber mills have automated over the years, replacing workers with sophisticated machinery and reducing the number of jobs in the local economy.
  • agriculture-it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make money. Trends such as factory farming, which require high capital investments, can produce meat more ‘cheaply’; crops can be grown anywhere in the world; large agribusiness companies look for contract farmers, cheap labor at the global level so they won’t be dependent on a few sources for commodities. In the 1980s in the U.S. land prices began to drop. As farmers tried to borrow on overvalued land, they were often denied, couldn’t make current payments, and many had to sell, often to large corporations. This was part of a broader process of industrializing and corporatizing farming. Corporate consolidation went on in the 80s, especially in the Midwestern U.S.
  • ‘Boom-bust’ cycles–in many rural areas dependent on one or two natural resources, times are good when prices are good (e.g., the price of silver, tin, timber, etc.). But when market prices fall, the boom can quickly turn into a bust. After 9/11, many communities that had invested heavily in tourism found people less willing to travel. States that depended on tourists visiting and spending money had revenue shortfalls and budget crises as well.
  • Economic transition–Many rural areas have had to try to ‘re-tool’ their economies, attract different kinds of investment. In some areas of the country, rural communities have turned to tourism and service-based economies. However, often this leads to transformations of the economy, and the people who benefit are rarely the longtime residents. Examples might be Leavenworth, Washington (sort of the Bavaria of the Northwest), or many casino towns in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Investment comes in, property values rise, and what do you think happens to the people who often initiated the changes? In others, corporate agriculture and factory farming have displaced the family farm (this has happened in the Midwest U.S. recently, and has been the case in California, where we get much of our produce, for quite some time)
  • Greater levels of investment happen in larger communities-why is this? Why are companies more likely to invest in a larger city, versus a rural area? Think about the workforce, available services.
  • Demographic trends-a lack of jobs makes it difficult to keep youth locally–many rural towns are ‘aging,’ and in need of more services as a result.

Urban bias

This is a term that suggests the uneven distribution of services. If you need to see a pediatric urologist, for instance, or even a dermatologist, you’ll have to leave La Grande to do so. Even hospitals in rural areas may have a difficult time keeping up with state of the art technologies, and may be second or third choices for patients. Many obstetricians have discontinued practicing in rural areas because of the low number of births and the high malpractice insurance associated with delivering babies and childbirth.

Endemic poverty

Appalachia is the best example in the U.S. of a population where wealth distribution is very uneven. Also pockets of the U.S. South-where wealth is plentiful, but the distribution of that wealth is highly skewed. We saw this after Hurricane Katrina, in the Gulf Coast region. In Appalachia, mining companies ravage the land (see what mountaintop mining does), and take their profits out of the region. Topography makes travel difficult, investment in infrastructure is minimal, education poor, environmental problems severe, etc. Tribal reservations in the US are among the areas with the most intractable poverty.  And of course, inner cities, in almost every large metropolitan area (but we digress from topic).

Environmental degradation

Overcutting, mining waste, soil or rangeland erosion, have all led to decreased economic value of the natural resource base. At the same time, efforts to transform management of public lands and resources for a variety of uses (e.g., recreation, improved water quality) have placed less emphasis on extractive economies, more on the environment as a stock of resources whose value is greater if it is managed for long-term sustainability. Then there’s the issue of waste. Imagine living near a nuclear power plant, a landfill where cities send their garbage, a hog farm with a noxious lagoon that floods with heavy rains.

However, much as the areas of the South (in global terms–what we often think of as much of the poorer part of the world, including areas with remaining tropical forests) have not been compensated for the important roles that these standing forests play in fixing carbon that otherwise would dissipate in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming (the industrial countries of the North owe them an ‘ecological debt’), rural areas that preserve their resource bases are not rewarded economically for doing so, other than to attract tourism or service-based business.