Sunday, July 5, 2015

06/16/2015 at 8:20pm

Current Population Survey Internet Use Supplement (2003, 2012)]The chart shows broadband adoption rates for low-income households (below $25,000) and high-income ones (above $100,000), and the growing gap between them. If Lifeline funding could be used for Internet access, would that help lower the gap?

See related article by a Lifeline participant.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent proposal to expand the current Lifeline program – which provides phone service to low-income households – to include broadband access has drawn both praise and criticism.

Since 1985, the program has helped cover the cost of landline and (20 years later) mobile phone service for low-income households, and is credited with helping cut the telephone penetration gap between low- and high-income households by two-thirds.

But what does the empirical evidence have to say about extending such a program to broadband? Is there a documented need for it? What are the expected economic gains? Will there be increases in low-income Americans’ quality of life, decreases in overall poverty rates or growth in our regional or national economies?

Widening Broadband Adoption Gap

In FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s blog post on the topic, he noted the large disparity in broadband adoption rates between low-income households that make less than US$25,000 a year and high-income ones that earn more than $100,000. While rates on the high end approach universal adoption at 95%, poorer homes don’t even reach half (47%).

Even more interesting is the fact that this gap has actually widened, by five percentage points, over the past decade, despite low-income adoption rates starting from an abysmally low 7% in 2003 (see chart below).

Since market forces and prior policy efforts have not been successful at reducing this gap over time, there is a clear need for measures to encourage adoption among low-income households.

Some studies have directly pointed to this gap in highlighting the importance of broadband in today’s society, particularly for low-income households.

A 2010 study commissioned by the FCC notes that broadband access is becoming required for social and economic inclusion – and low-income communities know it. Another qualitative study found that price was only one factor in what was termed “digital exclusion” of low-income communities.

Access and Economic Growth

In terms of the economic impact of such a program, Chairman Wheeler’s notes referenced a 2012 study that estimated broadband helps a typical US consumer save $8,800 per year by providing access to online bargains.

06/15/2015 at 10:44pm

Photo by Shawn Poynter Employees at a boot factory in Jefferson City, Tennessee, walk back to their lines after a lunch break. Some of the workers had worked in the same building under its former life as a flak-jacket manufacturing facility.

Reindustrializing the U.S. has been something of a fad to rationalize the return of prodigal firms from overseas.

Prodigal is the correct word here. These firms unceremoniously abandoned U.S. communities and workers by moving operations out of the country. They wreaked widespread economic havoc during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Globalization turned out badly for the majority as U.S. wages, benefits, and job opportunities stagnated. Meanwhile, corporate profits and executive rewards boomed as the overall economy became more technologically oriented.

Reindustrialization, or trying to bring back manufacturing with incentives, might be good. But don’t jump in without a lot of thought – especially if you live in a rural area.

First, urban companies and shareholders have an advantage because of reduced transportation costs and domestic wages that have been forced down.

Second, communities could benefit, if they don’t fork out too much in tax incentives (legalized bribes) to attract new industries.

Third, factories don’t need as many laborers as they did in the past. The workers who do find jobs through reindustrialization will need more specialized skills – that’s the reason behind all of the discussion lately about improving workforce quality.

Too many industrial firms treat their workers badly in a time of surplus labor. But this isn’t likely to be part of the conversation as communities rebuild their economies with old-fashioned tools like tax incentives for manufacturers.

My friend—I will call him Jack—works harder than most. He is in his 40s and lives in a smaller Midwestern town. Learning is a passion, and he is good at it.

Like many in his generation, the doors of opportunity have not opened easily. When Jack was stymied in his efforts to follow his preferred career path, he went to his state unemployment office to investigate other possibilities. Factory work was available.

06/14/2015 at 7:12pm

Rural counties have rebounded slightly from a dip in job growth earlier this year. Click on the map for an interactive version.

Job gains in rural America have returned after a sudden decline early this year.

There were 232,000 more jobs in rural counties this April than in April a year ago, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In January, the Daily Yonder found that these same counties counted 330,000 fewer jobs than in January 2014.

(Rural America here includes all counties that lie outside metropolitan regions.)

The unemployment rate in rural America in April stood at 5.4 percent. A year ago, the unemployment rate in rural counties was 6.2 percent.

The rate of job gain in rural America was only slightly slower than the rate of job gains in urban counties. Rural job growth was about 1.2 percent a year; the urban rate was 1.8 percent.

The unemployment rate in metropolitan America was 5 percent in April 2015; a year earlier, the rate was 5.8 percent. Urban counties gained 2.33 million jobs between April 2014 and April 2015.

The map above shows job loss and gain between April of 2014 and April of this year. Metropolitan counties that lost jobs are colored orange. Metro counties that gained jobs are blue.

06/12/2015 at 7:56am

All photos by Megan King Catrina; Anai sitting for a Catrina face painting in celebration of Day of the Dead. Erwin, Tennessee.

According to a 2012 profile by the University of Tennessee, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Tennessee increased by 134%. Today, one in eight new migrants to Tennessee is Hispanic, and one in ten births is to a Hispanic child. Photographer Megan King began her series, Hispanic Appalachia, as an effort to highlight the growing population of Hispanic people living and working in Tennessee. King says she hopes the series will “highlight emerging diversity in this historically conservative region.”

De Pesca; Frank fishing on the Nolichucky River in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Megan King: I am from Bristol, Tennessee. I grew up at the base of Holston Mountain surrounded by farmland and knobs, playing in creeks, barns, and fields with my brother and cousins. I lived there until I went to college.

Hot-N-Ready Tamales; traditional, homemade tamales. Johnson City, Tennessee.

DY: You now live in Johnson City, Tennessee.  What brought you there? 
MK: I came to East Tennessee State University to study education. I changed plans after taking a photo class and ended up with degrees in Studio Art and Spanish.

Casa; collectable skulls sitting on a table in Anai's room brought back from trips to Mexico, where she lived for years before moving to the U.S. Erwin, Tennessee.

DY: When did you first start taking pictures?
MK: I do not remember specifically, but I went through several film cameras as a kid. My first was a 110 camera, very similar to the Micro Holga. I recently found a photo I made with that camera and my mother says I was 7 when I made it. I continued in phases to make photos growing up, but it was not until college that I started to take it more seriously. 

Cortando; former neighbor, Jose, mowing his backyard. Johnson City, Tennessee.

DY: Tell us about the Hispanic Appalachia project.  How did it begin and what is its aim?
MK: I began Hispanic Appalachia in undergrad as a project I could work on over a long period of time and bring together as a BFA show.  The aim, for the most part, is enlightenment, to show an important side of Appalachia that is often underrepresented.

06/11/2015 at 6:26am

Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidtate Scott Walker, left, road to an Iowa campaigning event on Harleys with other GOP hopefuls this weekend.

The first ballots for the 2016 presidential election will be cast in a little more than seven months. That means between now and January there will be a rush of candidates, a winnowing of those who fail to raise money or attention, and, if we are lucky, a philosophical and practical debate about the challenges facing the United States.

In an ideal world that discussion would include American Indian and Alaska Native concerns. But that never happens (unless you read between the lines).

So the Democrats — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and the newest entrant, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (who once was a “liberal” Republican) — campaign on issues ranging from protecting and expanding voting rights to switching the U.S. to the metric system.

And the Republicans? Well, just listing the candidates is kind of like making sure you get all the names right when reporting about a school play. There are so many, you’re bound to miss someone. But here goes (in order of recent polling by Real Clear Politics): Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And that’s only the 15 “major” candidates. So in order to make noise in that large a field some of those would-be presidents rode Harley’s across Iowa this weekend, revving up their engines and their rhetoric. Hardly the right atmosphere for a discussion about tribal sovereignty.

06/10/2015 at 7:53am

While chicken farmers battle it out, corporations rake in the spoils.

Another word for tournament is competition.

That’s why it seems odd that our fully integrated monopolistic poultry industry, made up of a few competition-averse multinational corporations, has adopted a tournament system for their contract growers.

And by the way, corporations don’t apply tournament rules to themselves.

Under the tournament system for contract growers, integrator companies – the huge poultry corporations – set a baseline of performance for contractors – the farmers who actually raise the chickens. Contractors whose chickens get bigger faster receive a bonus that is paid for by deductions from other growers pay.

Healthy competition is good. But this isn’t healthy. That’s because the real competition among contractors is for the esteem of the company. That esteem can mean healthier hatchlings, higher quality feed, more advantageous load out times. And that results in higher scoring in the tournament.

Growers are all required to supply land and build and maintain similar buildings and equipment in accordance with integrator policies. Integrators provide birds and feed, determine timetables for deliveries and pick up, mandate upgrades to facilities that growers must pay for, and hold grower meetings to indoctrinate them in company policy. The company decides who has a contract, and it decides if contractors keep their contract. It sets the performance baseline and is the sole decider of how well each grower did. There are no government standards for the way growers are reimbursed and no government oversight to assure fairness.

And growers never see the data used to score them and their peers.

Integrator corporations say there are enough of them for farmers to switch. The government says so too. But nailed to the ground, farms can’t be moved, and integrators for the most part don’t compete in the same regions.

How can a farmer with fixed assets relocate his business?

06/09/2015 at 9:48am

Jean Ritchie's version of "Shady Grove."

Jean Ritchie, the Appalachian traditional singer who died early this month at the age of 92, found new audiences for rural songs in the nation’s largest cities.

Ms. Ritchie’s story is well known and well documented – by her and others. When she sang her Eastern Kentucky family’s traditional songs to friends and acquaintances in the New York City area, she received their rapt attention. They saw something special and asked for more.

We know Ms. Ritchie valued the songs of Appalachia long before she set foot in New York. And it wasn’t news to her that the region’s songs had deep cultural antecedents and historical significance. But seeing the reaction of city audiences to her music must have strengthened her own sense of the cultural treasures her family and others had taught her.

Not every rural person who moves to an urban area receives such a welcome. But many saw new value in the culture of their homeplaces when they ventured forth to be part of new communities. For me, some of that new perspective on the value of my home region of Eastern Kentucky came from gracious people who were genuinely interested in the place where I was raised. Another part of it came from seeing my own family and region’s cultures in a new light when they were suddenly absent. And I’ll admit that some of that perspective came from “stubbing up” when I felt someone was besmirching my place of origin.