Rural Poverty, Economic Opportunity, and Public Policy
(Poverty and Income Policy)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Individuals and families experiencing poverty in rural communities face significant challenges. There are fewer economic opportunities in some rural regions, so the pathway to a stable income and financial stability is more difficult to navigate (Rural Communities: Age, Income, and Health Status, 2018). Child poverty rates remain stubbornly high in rural communities (Schaefer, Mattingly, & Johnson, 2016). Access to the safety net varies widely across geographies. At the same time, there is a high degree of heterogeneity in the experiences of poverty and public policies to address poverty and economic opportunities in rural areas between rural counties, states, and regions. Some rural areas, like the upper Midwest, are relatively prosperous, while other rural regions experience deep and persistent poverty rates.
This panel will explore mechanisms and barriers to addressing poverty and economic opportunity in rural communities from a number of different lenses. The first paper, “Missing Men? Reassessing How We Measure, Explain, and Understand the Declining Labor Force Participation Rate among Prime-Age Men”, will examine the experiences of individuals in achieving economic opportunity in a rural region in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Dr. Francis explores the mystery of declining labor force participation among men through life history interviews. Rather than a clear distinction between “workers” and “nonworkers”, he find that most men have spells of labor force nonparticipation, and virtually all men are united in navigating an employment landscape of largely precarious jobs.
The second paper, “Human Services Deserts: Quantifying Counties with No Nonprofit Human Services” focuses on the nonprofit social safety safety net, which provides a wide range of services to families experiencing poverty, including homeless shelters, food banks, and emergency cash and utility assistance. There is some evidence to suggest that in some counties, the nonprofit safety net is virtually nonexistent. This paper explores the 360 counties where no human services nonprofit organizations reported assets, to better understand what is happening on the ground in these counties.
In the third paper, Dr. Giordono and Dr. Rothwell work to reconcile differences in our understanding of the way people experiencing poverty are portrayed through poverty measures, with a focus on the way the Supplemental Poverty Measure treats individuals who access cash transfer programs. They examine how variations between different types of redistribution may differ between rural and urban geographies.
These three papers synthesize the perspectives of individuals experiencing poverty in rural Pennsylvania, organizational-level provider data, poverty measurement challenges, and state-level benefits programs. This range of perspectives will provide evidence for discussing policy approaches and unique challenges to addressing the topics of rural poverty and economic opportunity.
Our Discussant, Dr. Seefeldt, has a background in exploring how low income and working class families understand their situations. Her research on working class women and families in Detroit will provide an important reference point for discussing similarities and differences between how urban and rural poor and working class people navigate the possible resources, options for work, and experiences of poverty and the safety net.