Saturday, April 19, 2014

04/07/2014 at 6:12am

U.S. Census/Daily YonderClick the map to make it interactive an explore county-level popuulation data.

If you’re looking for evidence of North Dakota’s oil and gas boom, take a look at the top 25 fastest-growing nonmetro counties in the United States in the list below.

The top six are in North Dakota. And the state has another four a little farther down the list, giving North Dakota a total of 10 counties in the top 25.

Above is an interactive map that displays population change from 2010 to 2013 as a percentage of population. Green counties gained; purple counties lost. (We had an incorrect version of this map up last week for a short time -- this one should work much better.)

North Dakota is dominated by the dark green counties at the top, center of the nation.

Below is a list of nonmetro counties that gained the most population as expressed as percentage growth from 2010 to 2013.

At the top of the heap is McKenzie County, North Dakota, where the population surged 46% in recent years, to reach 9,300 residents in 2013.

The smallest county on the top 25 fastest growing is Loving County, Texas (No. 7), where just 13 new residents resulted in a climb of 16%.

Source: U.S. Census

04/04/2014 at 4:23am
This map shows post offices that are scheduled to have their hours reduced between now and the end of September. The changes could affect the jobs of about 3,300 postmasters, SavethePostOffice reports.

More than 3,000 postmasters could lose their full-time jobs at the end of September when the U.S. Postal Service is scheduled to enact sweeping changes in how local post offices are operated and staffed.

That’s according to the website SavethePostOffice.com, which follows postal policy, paying special attention to the POStPlan, which is reducing post office hours and replacing full-time postmasters with part-time employees.

The exact number of postmaster reductions will depend on existing vacancies.

 “By October, the institution of the small-town career postmaster will become a thing of the past at almost half the country's post offices,” the website reports:

As best as we can figure it using USPS lists, about 8,800 post offices have had their hours reduced over the past year and a half …  For another 300 offices, a public meeting was held recently or it's scheduled soon, but no implementation date has been announced. 

That leaves around 3,900 post offices where no meeting has yet been scheduled and implementation has yet to occur.   At many of these offices, there's currently a postmaster vacancy; at others, a vacancy will open up over the coming months if the postmaster can find a new position.  If implementation continues at the current rate (about a hundred a month), some 600 of these post offices will have their hours reduced during the spring and summer. 

In the end, there will be something like 3,300 post offices where the postmaster will still be on the job as of September 30, 2014.  On that date, these postmasters will lose their full-time jobs as part of a Reduction in Force — i.e., they will be RIF’d.

SavethePostOffice has several lists and maps that allow users to explore how the changes might affect their local branch of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s worth a look.

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Michigan’s farmers and other rural businesses need broadband to compete in the marketplace, says the president of the state Agribusiness Association.

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A majority of Wisconsin rural school districts that had tax increases on the ballot Tuesday came away with voter approval to raise more public money for local education. Twenty rural districts had tax proposals on the ballot this week, ranging from $440,000 to $27.6 million. Twelve initiatives passed; eight failed.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

Rural school districts have come under increased pressure as declining enrollment, fluctuating state aid, and increasing operational costs have combined to force districts into an uncomfortable corner – ask the community for a tax increase or face drastic budget cuts.

“It is a very difficult decision — the school is the heart and soul of the community,” said Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Rural Schools Alliance.  “And whenever you have to increase taxes it’s always a point of contention.”

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04/03/2014 at 7:06am

NY Press Message received: After meeting farmers Ben Banker and Deanna Moore, Brendan Rafferty (center) sent an Instagram message about the experience. The farmers were part of a public relations event to introduce dairy farmers to New York City in November 2013.

Commodity farmers of deep rural America are rarely mentioned in mainstream media unless there is a crisis.   Similarly, food movement writers and literature do not welcome commodity farmers into the fold of “local food.”  “Local farmers” are lovingly depicted almost to the point of rock-star status.  “Commodity farmers” of deeper rural regions seem to be viewed more with suspicion and in some cases, contempt.

Overseas, commodity farmers have used a variety of methods to gain public consideration of agriculture.  French farmers have elevated farmer protests to an art form.  Likewise for British dairy farmers who sent some 3,000 dairy farmers into London during a 2012 milk price decline. The farmers took their campaign to the public, calling it “SOS Dairy.”  British musicians composed an SOS Dairy theme song calling for “fair trade milk prices.” In the first international sharing of dairy farmer protest music that I know of, the British  musicians re-mixed the SOS Dairy song for California dairy farmers who were also staging milk price protests  in the streets of Sacramento during 2012.  (You can listen to it here.)

Plaid-jacketed farmers stroll in Times Square. In New York, we dairy farmers see ourselves as closer to the fray of urban food policy than farmers of other regions.  New York is a highly urban state where Big City politics can have a real impact on rural New York.  We still remember the late 1990’s when New York City politicians helped to break up the Northeast Dairy Compact.  This was an effort to stabilize milk prices for the dairy farmers Upstate.  New York City consumer advocates called this farmer collective bargaining effort a “milk tax on the poor” and the New York Times railed against “farmer cartels.”

The pendulum has swung the other way and New Yorkers are now seeking more food from Upstate New York.   Rural New York dairy farmers have been attempting to establish communications with the Big Apple and its urban food movement in a variety of ways.   In March of 2013, a group of Upstate dairy farmers tackled the Big Apple when dairy farmers attempted to meet food movement leaders. Our presentation at the 2013 Just Food conference covered dairy farmers of all sizes, with no farmer left behind.  We tried to give an accurate picture to New Yorkers of deep rural New York with photographs, statistics and maps.  We made many friends, especially media people with whom we have maintained contact.

A dairy farmer publicity “grand slam” took place on November 8, 2013.    Eighty-four Vermont and New York dairy farmers filled two red plaid buses, traveling into New York City for the “Cabot Farmers Gratitude Tour.”   Dressed alike in red plaid jackets, the Cabot Creamery farmers’ theme was to thank New York City consumers for their support.  Farmers were positioned in 75 retail stores where they distributed cheese samples, did in-store demos and posed for “selfies” with consumers.   Reports of “farmer hugging” and consumer enthusiasm in meeting actual dairy farmers came back with the farmers.    Before leaving town, the Cabot dairy farmers performed “55 Random Acts of Cheddar.”  Cheesey greetings were left at 55 fire houses, police departments and not-for-profits, thanking these professionals for their work.  The Cabot farmers cooperative did what has never been done:  delivered a massive influx of actual dairy farmers into New York City.

04/02/2014 at 5:55am

U.S. Census, Daily Yonder This shows the population change each year from 2010 to 2013 for nonmetropolitan counties. Micropolitan (blue -- nonmetro counties with small cities) saw slight increases in population, while noncore counties (red -- nonmetro counties with no cities greater than 25,000 in population) had decreases. The net effect (green) for nonmetro counties was a slight population loss in each of those years.

NOTE: We had trouble wth data in the map originally published with this story. We've substituted this chart until we get things sorted out. Were sorry for the error.

For the third year in a row, nonmetropolitan counties saw their population decline, according to 2013 population estimates released recently by the U.S. Census.

Counties that are outside metropolitan areas saw the number of residents drop by about 28,000 from 2012 to 2013, according to Census figures. 

It’s a tiny drop as a percentage of the overall rural population. But it continues a pattern that occurred the last three years.

The population loss occurred entirely in the nation’s least populated counties – “noncore” counties, which have no cities larger than 25,000 residents. In those small counties, the cumulative population dropped by 36,000 from 2012-2013, Census data show. 

Nonmetro counties with small cities (called micropolitan counties) gained about 8,000 residents during the same period.

04/01/2014 at 9:37am
FCCThe map from the Federal Communications Commission shows the funding each state has received from the Connect America Fund, which is supposed to help telecommunications companies defray the cost of reaching hard-to-serve areas. AT&T and Verizon are giving back a total of $67.5 million because they don’t think it serves their corporate interests. Click on a state to see the amount and type of funding provided.

Sprint is teaming up with a telecom cooperative to offer higher-speed wireless broadband in rural areas, reports Scott M. Fulton III in Fierce Enterprise Communications. Sprint will provide spectrum for 4G LTE service in rural markets. The cooperative, NetAmerica Alliance, will sell the service via its individual Internet provider members around the country. NetAmerica currently offers broadband service via a product called Bonfire.

The new plan is called the Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART).

Fulton relates the new partnership to AT&T and Verizon’s decision to pull back from rural areas. The two telecommunication giants are returning Connect America funds instead of following through on their commitments to use the money to serve hard-to-reach areas, the Motley Fool reports. AT&T will give back $47.8 million and Verizon will return $19.7.

The gap in service – the bane of many rural households that have a tough time getting a good broadband connection – is seen as a market opportunity by Verizon and NetAmerica, Fulton reports.

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The prevalence of opiate drug abuse in rural Ohio combined with a lack of drug treatment centers is a deadly combination, reports the Dayton Daily News. Rural Preble County in southwest Ohio has the second highest drug-death rate in the state (second to Dayton’s Montgomery County). But Preble has far fewer resources for treating drug addiction. The obstacles to treatment in rural areas include …

… greater travel distances, a lack of public transportation and limited resources in their local areas, said Jay Meyer, a recovering addict and member of the Miami County Recovery Council, an outpatient counseling agency in Troy.

“There’s nothing out here,” Meyer said. “We have access to a handful of inpatient beds at (Nova Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment center in Dayton), but that’s not nearly enough to handle the need. Having a safe place to detox was critical in my situation, but a lot of people don’t have that.”

04/01/2014 at 6:12am

Source: Geography of Homelessness The homelessness rate is lower overall in rural areas, but the U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless says poor rural communities have some of the nation's highest homeless and poverty rates.

The unfolding scene before our small group was about to become surreal.

We were attending a professional meeting in a Western city and had some free time to take a walk at dusk through a riverside park.

As we walked, something went off in my brain. I became aware of three hikers some distance away. At first, I thought they were recreational hikers, speaking loudly as they were ending their day on the trail.

Then I became conscious of something in the tone of their voices: anger. Something else replayed from my unconscious memory. The hikers had not come across the nearby bridge, but from underneath it.

No one else in my group seemed to be picking up on what was happening. So I quietly shepherded my friends toward a more brightly lit area as the voices of the hikers got louder. It was becoming evident from their clothes and gear that these were probably cross-country hikers, unemployed and homeless.

The surreal part of the scene was the conversation as the leader of the three chastised a fellow hiker. In reaction to the verbal abuse, the other fellow bawled like a baby, or perhaps like a lost lamb.

As the three walked away from us toward the city, the group's leader banished the third man from the group. When the two remaining hikers left, the lone man wailed for a few moments and then ran up the street after them. His plaintive cries faded away.

The most chilling part of the whole 90 seconds or so were the words of the leader: "You remember what I did to that guy in Minneapolis a month ago? ..."

We were all thankful we had moved away to a safer place.

03/31/2014 at 11:31am

AP/Leigh Vogel Bill Fales raises grass-fed cattle in western Colorado. He'll pay more this year for health insurance. Health insurers can’t use pre-existing conditions to raise the cost of premiums any more, but they can still base rates on geography.

"We've gone from letting the insurance companies use a pre-existing medical condition to jack up rates to having a pre-existing zip code being the reason health insurance is unaffordable," said Bill Fales, a western Colorado rancher whose insurance premium went up 50% recently. "It's just wrong."

Fales is quoted in an AP report on the impact of Obamacare on rural health-care costs.

Geography is one of only three determinants insurance companies are allowed to use to set premiums under the federal health care law, along with age and tobacco use. Insurance officials say they need such controls to remain viable. …

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation recently rated the Colorado region where Fales lives as the nation's priciest ... 

Other insurance price zones on the most-expensive list include rural areas in Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin and Wyoming. But the cost differences between densely and sparsely populated areas shouldn't come as a shock, said [one insurance industry spokesman], because it's simply more expensive to deliver care in such communities. …

States have only one option to reduce the premium divide between their urban and rural areas. They can set a single statewide rating zone, an option that would reduce premiums for those in rural areas by shifting costs onto more-populated regions.

It's something officials in all but the smallest states are reluctant to do. Only five states -- Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont -- chose a single rating zone, in addition to Washington, D.C., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"There's always been geographic variance in insurance," said Craig Garthwaite, an economist at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management who has studied the economic consequences of the new health care law.

The difference now, he said, is insurers have fewer levers to adjust premium pricing. Garthwaite also said the health care law makes it easier for rural health insurance shoppers to see what city residents are paying.

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International rural communities are some of the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, according to a new report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a development agency based in the United Kingdom.

"They're not really visible to us, particularly in the wealthy countries," report author Alison Doig said. "There are so many millions of people that are affected by climate change in different ways, and that's what we wanted to show in the report."

The report found that indigenous and agricultural communities in developing nations are some of the hardest hit groups. Climate change has affected water supplies, creating both shortages and flooding. Sea level changes affect coastal and island communities.

"In the Western countries, we have insurance, enough financial resources; we can move from place to place; and we have recovery mechanisms," she said. "But, unfortunately, for the farming communities we work with across the world, they have no backup, no insurance, and nowhere else to go."

The report has stories from communities in El Salvador, Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Malawi, Bolivia and the Philippines.

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