The transformation of the American economy was supposed to usher in a new era of prosperity via a “rural renaissance.” Where has that dream gone and how do we bring it back? Over the past 50 years, many rural communities seem to have lost their purpose. The trend during this period has been toward fewer, larger, and more specialized farms. The result has been declining rural populations, declining demand for local markets and locally purchased inputs, and a resulting economic decay of many rural communities. Some communities attempted to diversify their economy to reduce their dependence on agriculture, and others abandoned agriculture entirely as a source of economic development. Industry hunting became a preoccupation of many small town councils and chambers of commerce. Jobs, any kind at any cost, seemed to be the primary development objective in some declining rural communities. Any lack of a geographical foundation to support sustained development was given little, if any, consideration. Many development activities, lacking a geographic foundation, were rooted in nothing more than short-run exploitation of undervalued human and natural resources in rural areas. The number of working poor – workers with full time jobs who live below the poverty line – in rural areas has continued to rise. In addition, many manufacturing companies and branch plants that initially relocated in rural areas eventually move to other countries where laborers are willing to work even harder for far less money.
A forest project in northwest Minnesota highlights how a small community can partner with a university to improve an important community resource. Some other small towns are starting to take notice of the success. The 160-acre pine forest runs along Highway 32 and holds historical significance to the community. Generations of residents have worked on the forest since it was developed as a Conservations Corps project in the 1930s. Originally a dusty area with blowing soil, the site was transformed into a pine forest. Local school children planted seedlings over the years, and community uses of the area became the stories of elders.Today, the Pines host hikers, horseback riders and ATVs, along with a community picnic shelter and rest area.
The shuttering of public housing complexes in two small Midwestern towns raises big questions for residents, HUD and Congress. To tell the story, I could use your help. It’s a Sunday morning in late February at the tiny Baptist church atop the hill in Thebes, a remote village of about 400 people in the southernmost part of Illinois. I’m here for a story assignment, but to know people is to worship with them. Faith is as much a part of these small communities as the rivers that run outside their doorsteps.My heart twists seeing the church’s sign out front that reads, “Pray for America.” officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development called a meeting in Thebes to inform some 85 residents of two public housing complexes, including Williams, that they have to move out by the end of the year. I was at that meeting, too. I stood outside with residents as a long caravan of vehicles bounded over potholes and past weather-beaten homes.It resembled a funeral procession — the federal government arriving to bury yet another small town in my backyard. A year ago, I sat in a Baptist church in the nearby town of Cairo as HUD delivered similar news to 400 residents. This has been a long time coming. Housing complexes have been crumbling around families while the region’s infrastructure and economy collapsed.And it’s not unique to Cairo and Thebes. Public housing is aging across America. Federal officials are increasingly looking to shift people from housing run by the government to affordable dwellings that are privately owned or managed, and to encourage state and local governments to help pick up the tab. But some regions like ours lack the resources to replace what’s being lost.
As producers Daffodil Altan and Andres Cediel (“Rape in the Fields”) document, the young workers at Trillium Farms in Ohio, one of the nation’s largest egg producers, turning out 10 million eggs a day, found the American dream to be a nightmare. At one facility, captured on a bit of harrowing hidden camera footage, conditions were hellish, there were narrow halls barely big enough for a person, with rows atop rows of caged, squawking hens.“The manure falls in your eyes,” one worker says.Shifts started at 6 a.m. and, if workers were lucky, ended at 5 p.m. The plant temperature was over 90 degrees. The stench was so bad, many had to bolt to an exit to hurl.Workers’ quarters were about as vile as the living conditions for the hens. They were packed into trailers with no heat, no air conditioners and no running water. Their earnings were confiscated. If they tried to leave, they were threatened and abused.
A new report states the opioid crisis has cost Washington state billions of dollars in a single year. United States Senator Patty Murray released the analysis Monday, which found that in 2016 the crisis cost the state over $9 billion in fatalities, health care spending, addiction treatment, criminal justice and lost productivity.Opioid-related deaths had the greatest impact, costing the state $7 billion in 2016. According to the news release, deaths related to opioids cost the state more than $34 billion from the years 2012-2016.
Every year, more people are moving to small towns tucked in the Flathead Valley so they can choose from a range of outdoor activities — camping, hiking, riding their bikes, even kayaking or skiing — throughout the year. Flathead County first hit 100,000 residents last year, after growing by about 10 percent since 2010, according to U.S. census estimates. It’s the state’s second-fastest growing county, after Gallatin County, home of Montana State University, and one of the fastest-growing rural counties with populations over 25,000 in the United States. While many rural counties have been shrinking for years, others with strong recreational industries, such as mountainous western towns where people can take a quick hike or southern states with year-round golfing weather, have been growing rapidly. These populations are growing as it becomes easier to work from anywhere, and as more people retire and move away from the city. The trend is part of what drove the overall slight growth of the rural population in the United States from 2016 to 2017, for the first time since 2010, according to a Stateline analysis of census data.
Darla Moore came from humble roots. She grew up in Lake City, S.C., an agricultural community with a population of 6,675. After college, she moved to New York, where she achieved tremendous success in finance. She was the first woman on the cover of Fortune magazine. And with Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, she became one of the first two female members of Augusta National Golf Club.About 10 years ago, Ms. Moore began spending more time in Lake City, where her grandparents had farmed and her father, a school principal and coach, was a local leader. She attributed her success to her upbringing among a diverse group of people who worked primarily in agriculture.But it seemed that Lake City’s best days in the tobacco and cotton trade were behind it, and Ms. Moore was determined to fix it up. In the last decade, she said, she has given about $100 million to support the town.Many once-great towns and neighborhoods in America have lost their luster. But the challenges of turning around a community are complex and may deter many philanthropists. For one, the job calls for more effort than just giving money. Experts say the person leading the charge needs to be part of the community, or substantial change will be difficult to accomplish.
President Donald Trump and many congressional Republicans are pursuing policies to reduce legal immigration to the United States, with proposals to prioritize admission for highly skilled and well-educated immigrants over those with family ties to residents and by deporting undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the U.S.Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has fallen toward 4 percent, and employers increasingly say they're experiencing worker shortages.Economist Aparna Mathur at the American Enterprise Institute warns that reducing immigration to the United States over the coming decade will starve the economy of workers.“The baby boomers retiring is creating this deep hole in the workforce,” Mathur said. “U.S. birth rates are at all-time lows. We’re not seeing a huge amount of native workers entering the economy.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, immigrants — both documented and undocumented — made up 16.9 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, up from 13.3 percent in 2000. On average, immigrant workers are younger than native-born workers, and they have a higher labor force participation rate.
Glaciers in Alaska's Denali National Park are melting faster than at any time in the past four centuries because of rising summer temperatures, a new study finds.
When they live in remote rural areas, millennials are more likely to reside in a county that has better digital access. The findings could indicate that the digital economy is helping decentralize the economy, not just clustering economic change in the cities that are already the largest. When looking at only rural counties (what the OMB classification system calls “noncore”) divided into five equal groups or quintiles based on their digital divide (1 = lowest divide while 5 = highest divide), the figure at the very top of this article shows that rural counties experienced an increase in millennials where the digital divide was lowest. (The millennial population grew by 2.3 percent in rural counties where the digital divide was the lowest.) Important to note is that this same pattern occurs in metropolitan and small city counties as well.