Fast Takes | When ‘Rural’ Means Metropolitan
A list of affluent “rural” counties includes some usual suspects and some that are just suspect, period. | A vision of rural: “hidebound by feudalism and poverty.” | Campaigning on rural health in Texas.
In a different kind of take on the rural economy, the Washington Post’s Philip Bump looks at counties that are entirely rural (by Census definition) and have median incomes way above average.
High-income rural areas usually have one of two things going for them: major oil and gas revenue or stunning natural amenities like lakes and mountains (especially if they have ski slopes on them).
Those two types of counties make the Washington Post list. There’s a cluster of North Dakota and Texas counties, for example, that are tied to oil and gas drilling. And there are beautiful spots around the country that attract the kinds of folks who can work (or not) anywhere. San Miguel County, Colorado, is home to Telluride. San Juan County, Washington, is part of a stunning archipelago in the Salish Sea.
But another class of county in the Post’s rural-and-rich category isn’t all that rural at all, using a different definition of the term. It’s really countryside suburbia. These are counties like Rappahannock and New Kent in Virginia and Elbert County, Colorado. They are actually part of two of the nation’s largest metropolitan statistical areas (Washington, D.C., and Denver, respectively).
Those metropolitan counties make the Washington Post list because they don’t have any areas densely populated enough to show urban settlement, and that’s how the Census defines rural population. But lots of residents commute from those counties to work in a major city each day, and that’s how the Office of Management and Budget determines whether a fringe county is in a metropolitan area. Economically, those counties behave a lot more like the metropolitan areas of which they are a part.
There’s also a political implication. Bump notes that most of the rural and rich counties went for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, saying that this is one way these “rural” counties do conform to stereotype. Again, that depends on how you look at it. In the Daily Yonder’s analysis of the rural vote, Rappahannock, New Kent, and Elbert counties show up in the suburbs of major metros, a classification that Hillary Clinton won by a very tight 4 points. Rappahannock, New Kent, and Elbert – rich, educated, and part of major metros – went big for Trump. The closest Clinton got to winning these counties was a 17-point spread in Rappahannock. Elbert County went more than 3 to 1 for President Trump. So the way you define rural also has a bearing on whether the Democrats have a rural problem or a major-metropolitan-area problem. Or both.
In another Washington Post piece, reporter Ishaan Tharoor soars above the “rural-urban” divide at 50,000 feet, drawing comparison among political events in the United States, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Hungary and more. He also travels through the fourth dimension in his analysis:
… [T]here’s nothing particularly new about the urban-rural divide. Modern politics have been historically shaped by the tensions between the dynamism of cities and the relative stasis of the provinces, hidebound by feudalism and poverty. Town and country divisions — and the cultural enmities they foster — stretch back to antiquity
While modern parliamentary systems have adapted to the new urban groove, Tharoor says America has remained tied to an “antiquated” Electoral College that gives rural votes disproportionate power. If that’s the problem, good luck with the solution.
Democratic congressional candidate Dayna Steele campaigns around the issue of healthcare and the closure of rural hospitals in the Texas 36th District. In a Houston Chronicle op/ed, she says 14 rural Texas hospitals have closed since 2010. She cites examples of communities in her district where the nearest hospital may be hours away. She mic checks several smaller communities in the district, which encompasses smaller counties to the east of Houston:
If you live in Liberty or Dayton and plan on having a child, you’ll need to drive to Kingwood or Houston because there is no longer a neonatal unit in your area. If you live in Orange and suffer a heart attack or stroke, you’re left hoping one of the three urgent-care facilities can save your life, unless you think you can get to Beaumont or Lake Charles in time.
Steele faces Republican incumbent Brian Babin, who is in his second term.
The agriculture industry is going to get a $12 billion infusion to help counteract the impact of the tariff war. Will the Trump administration extend a similar bailout offer to the president’s favorite American institution: the press?
One study found that newsprint prices will increase by about a third in the next year or two, thanks to tariffs on Canadian newsprint, The New York Time reports. Papers are cutting publication days. The Tampa Bay Times laid off 50 employees to make up for the extra $3.5 million in printing costs. The problem can be especially pronounced in rural areas that rely more heavily on traditional print media. “In rural communities, print newspaper are still very important,” said Robert M. Williams Jr., a Georgia newspaper owner and publisher.