Poverty is a term that has been greatly desensitized. The effect of the word is about as mellow as hearing “debt crisis” or “economically disadvantaged,” regarding the United States as a whole. The sentiment for many has unceasingly been, “if it does not affect me, then it cannot possibly be happening or be that bad.”
According to the most recent American Community Survey, the poverty rate among rural-dwelling Americans is 3 percent higher than among urban dwellers. To take it a step further, in the South, the poorest region in the country, the rural urban discrepancy is the greatest—around 8 percent higher in non-metro areas than metro areas.
So, let us a take a wild guess at the first thought that comes to mind after reading that alarming statistic, “What contributed to national rural penury, and what are some methods to help end underdevelopment in America, specifically rural?”
- Coal Mines: Citizens in the rural areas of America were once heavily attracted to working in the coal industry. One state that has been laboriously affected by the coal industry is West Virginia. According to The Nation, for the past century, the coal enterprise has purchased the devotedness of the state’s most influential institutions while simultaneously exploiting the “population for labor in criminally dangerous conditions.”
- For-Profit Private Prison Companies: Small towns are often lagging in the job market. Prison Policy reports that since 1980, the majority of private prisons have made deals with small towns to house their inmates, with new prisons opening in rural areas every 15 days. Promises of saving taxpayers money while generating income for the surrounding community are some of the many vows made by for-profit private prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Just in 2012, CCA made a reported 1.7 billion dollars. National Public Radio reported that David Shapiro, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project, authored a new report that explains, “Private prisons have incentives to make money and to cut costs. One of the ways they do that is by slashing pay for stuff, which leads to much higher rates of turnover.” To make matters worse, attn: noted an investigated report by the Sentencing Project that stated, “Reliance upon a prison as means of economic development is short sighted and didn’t provide any long-term growth.
- Drug Abuse: A cycle starts to present itself. Lack of education (due to low number of qualified teachers and the high dropout rate,) lack of job market and generational poverty contribute to nation-leading rates in obesity, smoking, prescription drugs, social isolation and untreated mental illness as told by Alternet and The Nation.
Steps Toward Positive Results
- Creating Jobs and Raising Property Value: The tech market has found a way to populate rural areas and contribute to the budding startup scene. The Wall Street Journal reported that last year, a number of Silicon Valley companies have moved to small rural areas across the United States, purchasing property, paying taxes that contribute to the town’s public schools and brings more commercial business.
- Improving Education: Rural communities are often forgotten by policymakers and school reformers. It is kind of hard to believe, since US News and World Reports reported that 11 million students inhabit rural region states. Transportation greatly inhibited attending schools, but the Obama Administration found a way to change that through the ConnectED initiative. This past December, National Economic Council and previous Assistant to President Obama for Economic Policy Jeff Zients told EdSurge News, “We’ve already connected more than 20 million students to high-speed internet in the classroom, putting us on a track to meet the President’s goal of having 99 percent of students connected to broadband by 2018.”
- Donating to Food Banks: Until more small companies and businesses are available to employ citizens in rural areas in droves, food donations are always welcomed. A list of nearby food banks that deliver to rural areas can be found here.
These are only a few ways to help contribute to reducing poverty in rural areas. If you have a thought on how to help, put those ideas to paper and assist your fellow surrounding neighbor.
Happen to know a high school student living in a rural area in need of internet access? Sprint has joined the ConnectED initiative in efforts to assist the rural high school graduation rate.
**Sprint has approved 1 million lines of free broadband service and a free device over a four-year period to low-income high school students who lack internet access at home. They are currently accepting applications. The deadline is March 31, 2017.**