Tuesday, April 21, 2015

04/21/2015 at 7:06am

Photo courtesy of Rachel Woolworth Rachel Woolworth stocks shelves in a San Luis Valley food pantry.

Nestled between two mountain ranges in south central Colorado lays the San Luis Valley, an agriculturally dependent region as starkly beautiful as it is impoverished. The poverty rate in the San Luis Valley hovers around 25 percent, almost double the state’s average.

The Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley, where I’ve worked as an Americorps volunteer since August, serves one in four of Valley residents (about 13,000 people) through its confederation of thirteen food pantries.

Food insecurity in the Valley is a consequence of the cycle of poverty here: seasonal employment and unemployment, lack of transportation resources, limited care for senior citizens, disabled citizens, and veterans, lack of affordable housing, a high rate of addiction, a harsh climate, and so much more. Additionally, many Valley residents live in food deserts — forced to travel over ten or twenty miles to reach the nearest full grocery store.

Their mission is to meet immediate needs and to empower people to live independently with dignity by providing emergency food packages to families and individuals throughout the San Luis Valley. That's consistent with those of countless other food pantries and the prevailing notion that food assistance programs across the nation are “emergency” services. While this might have been the case 20 years ago when the Food Bank Network opened its doors, it is no longer so. Working here day in and day out, this is not what I see.

Instead, I see Valley residents stuck in cyclical poverty, stopping in each week (often on the same day, at the same time) to collect from the “weekly system” (predominately non-perishable food like bread and produce) and six months out of the year for our “monthly system” (canned goods, eggs, meat etc.) in an attempt to put consistent meals on the table.

Rather than showing up in crisis mode, with starving mouths to feed, most of our clients seek reliable, supplementary help. When the system fails clients, the Food Bank Network is a resource they can fall back on.

Indeed, the majority of clients, most of whom are senior citizens, disabled, and/or providing for children, calculate the Food Bank’s services into their financial planning and weekly routine. The Food Bank is an enduring and integral presence in clients’ lives, but only one piece of the tattered puzzle of how to get by as a low-income resident of rural America.

To understand this further, it is important to understand our clientele.

04/19/2015 at 6:56pm

Roberto Gallardo/Daily Yonder. Data: 2012 Five-Year American Community Survey (ACS), Bureau of Economic AnalysisPer capita market income grew slowly but steadily in nonmetropolitan counties as the percentage of foreign-born residents increased. The relative size of the foreign-born population is grouped into five sets or quintiles, with 1 having the smallest percentage of immigrants and 5 having the most. The chart also shows the two types of nonmetropolitan counties – micropolitan (counties with cities of 10,000 to 49,999 residents) and noncore (counties with no city of 10,000 or more). Both types of nonmetropolitan counties saw an increase in income as the percentage of immigrants increased.

For many rural counties, having more immigrants also goes along with having a better local economy, according to a new study commissioned by the Daily Yonder.

“The results of this study contradict common perceptions regarding immigrants,” said Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., the author of the study “We frequently hear that immigrants are a drain on the economy and resources. But this data shows a very different picture.”

Gallardo looked at the percentage of a rural county’s population that was born beyond U.S. borders and correlated that information with some basic economic data. He found that, in general, as the proportion of the immigrant population grows in rural areas, positive economic indicators like per capita market income rise, as well. And negative economic indicators like the rate of poverty and unemployment go down.

Gallardo, whose academic focus is community economic development, is an adviser to the Daily Yonder, the author of numerous Daily Yonder articles, and an associate extension professor at Mississippi State University.

The study used data from the 2012 five-year American Community Survey, combined with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The ACS data does contain margins of error that need to be considered when interpreting the results, Gallardo said.)

(The data set is available in Excel format for download (1,200 KB). Also available is a description of methdology used in the study.)

The study split rural counties into five groups (or quintiles) based on the percentage of population that was born outside the United States in 2012. The counties with the lowest percentage of residents born outside the U.S. were in quintile one. These low-immigrant population counties had an average of less than 1 percent of residents who were born outside the United States. In quintile five, on the other end of the spectrum, the average size of foreign-born population was 8.9 percent.

The general pattern of more immigrants equaling better economic performance is reflected in per capita market income (shown in the chart at the top of this story), Gallardo said. Counties with the smallest percentage of immigrants had a per capita market income of $23,326. That figure grew steadily and peaked for counties in the “most-immigrants” category. For those counties, the per capita market income was 27 percent higher, or $29,538.

Similarly, for nonmetropolitan counties, the poverty rate fell from 20.9 percent in counties with the smallest proportion of immigrants to 17.6 percent in counties with the largest proportion (see chart below).

Roberto Gallardo/Daily Yonder. Data: 2012 ACS The percentage of population living in poverty tended to be less in counties with a greater percentage of foreign-born residents in the population. The change was more pronounced for the smallest counties, which have no cities of 10,000 or greater (shown in the red columns).

And unemployment was 0.8 percentage points lower in high-immigrant, nonmetropolitan counties – 7.9 vs. 8.7 percent, using 2012 data (see chart below).

04/17/2015 at 6:50am

USDA Economic Research Service

It seems like common sense to state that nonmetropolitan America is losing population because people are leaving. But there’s another reason populations fall – when the number of deaths in a county exceeds the number of births. This is called the natural increase or decrease. The other type of population change – migration – measures whether residents are leaving or moving into a particular county.

In case there was any doubt about which of these factors is the bigger cause of rural America’s population decline, this new chart from USDA Economic Research Service sets the question to rest. (See more from the ERS here.)

More people are leaving nonmetropolitan America than are moving there. That’s true for all categories of nonmetropolitan counties, from the biggest ones that are closest to cities all the way to the smallest and most remote ones.

Nonmetropolitan counties with small cities are still gaining population because there are more babies being born than there are people dying. But even those small-city areas are seeing more people move out than in. Presumably those migrants are heading to larger cities, which have a net gain in migration.

The chart tells the story.

04/16/2015 at 8:04am

Photo by Pierre Gonnord A miner in Asturias, Spain.

In Europe, as in America, one could argue, coal is in a slow and agonizing decline. The number of Spanish mines has fallen by three quarters in the past 25 years, 160 to 40 now, and the loss of workers is even worse. Now, due to a recent European Union agreement, mining subsidies, which used to support the industry, will end by 2018.

French photographer Pierre Gonnord has been documenting these miners for the past six years.

The men look as if they have been standing too close to a bomb detonation. Their faces are caked in toxic dust and dried sweat, the whiteness of their eyes accentuated by coal eyeliner. Their expressions combine pride, melancholy and bewilderment. In their poses and demeanors, taken together with Gonnord’s palette — dominated by olives, blacks and grays — the photographs recall Diego de Silva y Velázquez’s dreamy, disconcertingly lifelike oil portraits. But Velázquez painted members of Madrid’s royal court. The miners, upon reaching Madrid, were welcomed by riot police, rubber bullets and tear gas.

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A Minnesota House Energy and Economic Development bill aims to spur satellite and wireless Internet growth and claims that wiring small communities is too expensive. Critics say the bill could hurt rural broadband expansion in the state. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), sees it as a way forward.

“The migration of technology is toward wireless and satellite deployments, and you can get far more coverage at a lower price by using wireless instead of fixed fiber,” Garofalo said. “We’ll see where the technology takes us, but it’s pretty clear that around the world even high density areas are using wireless because the infrastructure costs are so much cheaper.”

The governor’s office and rural advocates see it differently.

“In its first year alone, [the rural interest lobbying group Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities] has partnered with private providers and local governments to expand broadband access to thousands of households, 150 businesses, and 83 libraries, town halls, schools, and other community institutions in greater Minnesota,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said. “Access to high-speed, affordable broadband Internet is not just nice; it is necessary.”

Dayton and the DFL-controlled Legislature committed $20 million to rural broadband in the current budget cycle. A task force recommended $200 million to fund the initiative.

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Working from the thesis that mid-size farms allow small communities to thrive, raising incomes and lowering unemployment, Grist.com has started a series called Farm Size Matters that looks at farm sizes in America and why it’s important.

So, why does farm size matter? As the total number of farms goes down, the number of big farms is going up — and this shift hurts rural America. According to an analysis by Food and Water Watch: “Communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment, and lower income inequality, than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses.”

04/14/2015 at 9:40pm

All Photos by Ryan Dorgan Branding cattle Monday, May 5, 2014, at the Eagle Ridge Ranch outside Casper, Wyoming.

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Ryan Dorgan: I was born in South Bend, Ind., and grew up in a little town northeast of there called Granger, which is a stone's throw from the Michigan state line. It was a farming town back in the day, but has slowly been bought up and sold off to developers. I had a nice suburban childhood - we were far enough out in the county to enjoy quiet nights but close enough that the city eventually made its way back to us. My parents now have apartments and a shopping center practically in their backyard where the forests and fields I used to run around in as a kid once were. There's still a little patch of woods behind our house that I appreciate even more now when I visit home, though it's tougher to see as many stars these days.

Gunnar Gordon, 4. White River Junction, Vtermont.

DY: When did you first start taking pictures?
RD: I spent my first few years at Indiana University switching majors and having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but one day, a package showed up on my doorstep. My grandma had sent me my late grandpa's old Olympus OM-2n 35mm camera and I took my first intro photo class the spring semester of my sophomore year. I took mom's advice and got a job at the school newspaper that following summer and started studies in the School of Journalism my senior year. It was a late start, but it came at the right time.

Chris teaches Xavier to shoot. Natrona County, Wyoming.

DY: You now live in Casper, Wyoming.  What brought you there?
RD: The American West has been this romanticized fascination of mine which all started with a family road trip when I was 10 years old. I remember seeing the Front Range coming into Denver for the first time on our way up into Leadville, and it was everything I'd ever wanted having grown up outside South Bend where the landscape experience was completely man-made and controlled. I spent my first 18 years in this totally strange and uninspiring environment that was a mix of endless cornfields, endless strip malls and endless cookie-cutter residential developments. What that little patch of forest behind my parents' house was to me as a kid, the West is to me as an adult. It was a place to escape from the rush and to be alone and to think and to explore, and that's what I've enjoyed since moving to Casper a little more than a year ago for this newspaper job. When my former photojournalism professor Jim Kelly emailed me to tell me about the job opening here, I looked up Casper, saw there was a mountain 10 minutes south of town, and had my mind made up immediately. That was all I really needed to know. So I can't thank Jim and my editor Alan Rogers enough for taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity to live and work in a part of the world that finally feels like home after 15 years of dreaming about it.

04/14/2015 at 4:16am

Source: Bill Bishop based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data Click the map to explore county-level jobs data.

For most of the last year, the number of jobs in rural America kept increasing.

That trend turned around in January, however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that rural counties lost over 330,000 jobs between January 2014 and January of this year.

Rural counties had been showing steady economic improvement over the last year or more. All of our year-to-year reports for 2014 showed rural counties making job gains.

For example, from February 2013 to February 2014, rural counties gained 140,000 jobs. (Comparing the same month from two different years takes out any seasonal impact that may be affecting job growth.)

From October 2013 to October 2014, those counties had a gain of 428,000 jobs.

November 2013 to 2014 showed similar gains.

When we checked again in January, however, the year-to-year gains in jobs had stopped. And job losses had begun.

Rural counties had 331,000 fewer jobs this January than in January of 2014.

Metropolitan counties, meanwhile, gained more than 3.1 million jobs.

The map above shows job losses and gains by county between January 2015 and January 2014.

Urban counties that gained jobs are in blue. Urban counties that lost jobs are colored orange.

Rural counties that gained jobs are green. Rural counties that lost jobs between January 2014 and January this year are red.

Click on the map to make it interactive. Then, if you click on a county, you can get all the relevant employment information, including the number of jobs now, the number of jobs lost or gained and the unemployment rate for January 2015.

04/13/2015 at 7:11am

Photo courtesy of Rachel Reynolds Luster Rachel Reynolds Luster, working in the one-room Myrtle Library in Myrtle, Missouri.

Name: Rachel Reynolds Luster
Where I Live: Couch, Missouri
Why I Live Here: I live here because I care about this place, and it cares about me.

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Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.
Rachel Reynolds Luster: I’m a folklorist, librarian, fiddler and community organizer living in the Missouri Ozarks. A lot of my time is devoted to organizing food producers and artisans in my home county. I also run a one-room rural library and play music every chance I get. I live with my family on a small farm and a good deal of time is spent there too, puttering in the garden or doing other projects.

DY: Tell us about where you live in the Ozarks.
RRL: I live in Couch, Missouri, a small, unincorporated village in Oregon County. We are in the Ozark Mountains right on the Arkansas/Missouri line. I like to call it the MOzarks. The county is geographically large and sparsely populated with a large chunk of the land being held in National Forest. Our land here is a karst topography, built on a thin layer of dirt over a series of caves. Our farm is between two watersheds, the Spring River and the Eleven Point. It’s beautiful here. The land and water is virtually unpolluted and, while it’s difficult to scratch out a good living in all this clay, it’s a worthwhile venture, one that folks have been devoted to doing for generations.

DY: How did you come to live where you do?  How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?
RRL: I grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks, so this cultural landscape and way of life is familiar. I had taken a job in a neighboring county working for a local arts council doing folklife work, part of which was to do field work in five counties, including Oregon County. My soon-to-be husband had just taken a position across the line in Arkansas as the Director of the Arkansas Folklife Program. I had to be in West Plains twice a week for meetings, and he had to be in Jonesboro once a week for meetings. The rest of our work was pretty much done on the road or out of the house.  Given that mathematical equation, Couch was pretty much the middle for us. We started looking. We had called about a little white farmhouse we’d seen on a flyer in the window of a shop in town. The agent said she couldn’t show it to us till Monday, but we asked for directions anyway. We went for a drive. It had just rained, and there’s this special Oregon County lighting that happens after a rain. It’s beautiful. It makes everything look like a painting of Tuscany. When we got to the place, the sky had opened up and there was a rainbow shining down on this little farmhouse. It was pretty much meant to be. We’ve been here going on 10 years. I have a lot invested in this community, and the community has invested a lot in me and my ideas. I have to say, I’ve never been in a place that felt more like home, and that was BEFORE my mom moved down the road. I can see living here for the rest of my days.