Posts Tagged ‘rural’



Liberal stories about who’s been left behind during the Second Great Depression are just about as convincing as the “breathtakingly clunky” 2014 movie starring Nicolas Cage.

For Thomas B. Edsall, the story is all about the people in the “rural, less populated regions of the country” who have been left behind in the “accelerated shift toward urban prosperity and exurban-to-rural stagnation” and who supported Republicans in the most recent election.

Louis Hyman, for his part, argues that the people who have been left behind—rural Americans and the people “who live and work in small towns”—hold a misplaced nostalgia for Main Street, which has been exploited by Donald Trump. What they really need, according to Hyman, is to find new jobs online so that they can “find their way from Main Street to the mainstream.”

In both cases, and many more like them, the great divide is supposedly one of geography: everyone is prospering in the big cities—with high-tech jobs, soaring incomes, and a proliferation of non-chain boutiques and restaurants—and everyone else, outside those cities, is being left behind.

Except, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, lots of people outside of the country’s metropolitan areas have been excluded from the recovery from the crash of 2007-08 (just as they were during the bubble that preceded it). But that’s true also of cities themselves, from Boston to San Francisco.

The problem is not geography, but class.

According to a 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute, in almost half of U.S. states, the top 1 percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, and in 15 of those states, the top 1 percent captured all income growth. In another 10 states, top 1 percent incomes grew in the double digits, while bottom 99 percent incomes fell.


Much the same is true in the nation’s metropolitan areas. In the 12 most unequal metropolitan areas, the average income of the top 1 percent was at least 40 times greater than the average income of the bottom 99 percent. In the New York City area, the average income of the top 1 percent was 39.3 times the average income of the bottom 99 percent, in Boston 30.6, and in San Francisco, 30.5 times.

By the same token, some of the nation’s non-urban counties have very high levels of income inequality. Lasalle County, Texas, for example, has an average income of the bottom 90 percent of only $47,941 but a top-to-bottom ratio of 125.6. Similarly, Walton County Florida, with a bottom-90-percent income of $40,090, has a top-to-bottom ratio of 45.6.

left behind

The fact is, across the entire United States—in large cities as well in small towns and rural areas—the incomes of the top 1 percent have outpaced the gains of everyone else. That’s been the case during the recovery from the Great Recession, just as it was in the three decades leading up to the most recent crash.

While it’s true, the voters in most metropolitan areas went for Hillary Clinton and those elsewhere supported Trump. The irony is that the majority of those voters, inside and outside the nation’s cities, have been left behind by an economic system that benefits only those at the very top.


Wide disparities in broadband access in the United States—between urban and rural areas and especially within cities—are both a consequence and a condition of inequality.

As the Financial Times explains,

It had been thought that the rural make-up of much of the US was the main factor in a national broadband subscription rate that is just 73.4 per cent, behind other developed nations such as the UK and Germany, which have rates of 88 per cent. About 67 per cent of households in rural areas have broadband internet service, compared to 75 per cent of urban households.

But the new Census Bureau statistics show a huge disparity among US cities and towns, with a gap of 65 percentage points between those with the highest and lowest subscription rates.

The problem is most acute in urban areas where the typical cost for the most basic broadband packages is too expensive for some. The OECD ranks the US 30th out of 33 countries for affordability, with an average price of $44 a month, compared with $26 for the UK., $22 for Greece and $16 for South Korea, based on speeds of 2.5 Mbps. . .

There is a very strong correlation with race and income. Just 45 per cent of households with an income of less than $20,000 a year have broadband whereas the rate for those earning $75,000 or more is 91 per cent. About a third of African American and Hispanic households are unconnected compared to 20 per cent for white households and 10 per cent for Asian households.


Map of the day

Posted: 5 September 2012 in Uncategorized
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American women were, on average, living 1.7 years longer in 2009 than they were in 1999. But, according to Bill Bishop and Roberto Gallardo [ht: db], that increase was realized in only a handful of rural and exurban counties. In a quarter of rural and exurban counties, women actually lived shorter lives in 2009 than in 1999.

The map for men is here.

One of the favorite targets of deficit-cutting fanatics is the Social Security program.

We shouldn’t forget that an important part of Social Security is the disability program, which (in 2009) paid 9.6 million Americans—4.6 percent of adults—who couldn’t work because of health problems an average of $1,064 a month.

But is disability is not uniform across the United States. As Bill Bishop and Roberto Gallardo [ht: db] explain, rates of disability are 80 percent higher in rural areas than in cities. Why?

Disability payments are concentrated in counties where the jobs require manual labor and where unemployment is traditionally high. Mining and timbering are major industries in many of the counties with the highest percentages of disability beneficiaries. These are also counties with historically high rates of unemployment.

The latest report from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is about rural poverty. It would have been a much better report if it had focused on rural inequality.

As a report on rural poverty, it offers the usual diagnosis and remedies—in other words, agricultural development as usual. It focuses, as expected, on the extent of rural poverty in the world today (e.g., the fact that 1.4 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty, struggling to survive on less than US$1.25 a day, and more than two thirds of them reside in rural areas of developing countries) and strategies to move rural people out of poverty (e.g., by managing risk, promoting access to markets, and investing in education).

What it only mentions in passing, and fails to investigate in any depth, is the extent of rural inequality. Thus, nowhere in the report will readers find any estimates of inequalities in the distribution of income and land ownership (although, on p. 89, IFAD does mention that “Peru now has greater disparities in land ownership than before the agrarian reform of the mid-1970s”). As a consequence, there is no attempt, in the policy proposals, to change the nature of that inequality—either by redistributing land or by encouraging new, more collective forms of rural production (in both farm and nonfarm economies) or by expanding the size and access to common assets.

That would be a real Green Revolution—one that sought not to create “productive, profitable, sustainable and resilient” forms of production but to challenge the power of large landowners and to foster the collective ability of rural workers to appropriate and distribute the surplus they produce.

Rural brain drain

Posted: 21 September 2009 in Uncategorized
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Bethel, VT

Bethel, VT

The authors of a recent study on young people in a small town in Iowa have discussed the results of their study in the Chronicle of Higher Education [ht: pk].

I agree there’s a problem of brain drain—not only in Ellis, Iowa but in Bethel, Vermont and in many other small towns in rural America. Some young people are leaving and many others, who stay, have a dim future.

But, after that, the authors get it all wrong. They take global capitalism as a given, and can’t imagine any noncapitalist alternatives. They recommend changes in education that sort students into the appropriate places in the capitalist job market, and fail to think about reorganizing the economies of rural America—activities in agriculture, industry, and services—in a noncapitalist manner.

Ultimately, with a plan and a vision the undoing of Middle America is not preordained. The rural crisis has been ignored for far too long, but, we believe, it isn’t too late to start paying attention. The residents of rural America must embrace the fact that to survive, the world they knew and cherished must change. And, on a national level, rural development must be more closely linked to national economic growth priorities, and policies must be created to help these communities prepare for a future that is already here.

Their message is adapt to a changing capitalist world, not change that world in a noncapitalist direction. The policies they advocate thus represent a brain drain of another sort. . .