Rural Lags in ‘Well Being,’ Says New Study
Congressional districts with a higher proportion of rural population tend to score lower on a well-being index. But other factors like education have far more influence on human development, says an author of the report. Still, only one congressional district with an above-average percentage of rural population scores in the top 100 districts, while 28 "more rural" districts score in the bottom 100, according to the index.
[imgcontainer] [img:map2key2015.PNG] [source]Map via Measure of AmericaThis map by Measure of America shows their "well-being index" by congressional district. Lighter areas score lower on the index, which is derived from indicators of income, education and health.
Disparity in America can be worlds apart – or right down the road, according to a new report that ranks congressional districts by their “well being.”
The congressional district whose residents have the highest well being, according to the report, is California’s 18th, an affluent and prosperous region just south of San Francisco that includes high-end cities like Palo Alto and Los Gatos, along with the southern fringe of San Jose.
To reach the nation’s lowest ranked congressional district, just drive over the coastal range to the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley. There, in California’s 21st congressional district, life expectancies are five years shorter than in the 18th district. Median earnings are less than half. And the high school graduation rate is one sixth that of the more affluent congressional district.
One difference between the two districts is the size of their rural populations. In the upscale 18th, less than 5 percent of residents are classified as rural by the U.S. Census. In the tough-times 21st, about 15 percent of residents are rural.
A good portion of those rural residents in the 21st district are low-paid workers who pick crops on San Joaquin farmlands, said Sarah Burd-Sharps, an author of the report Geographies of Opportunity, produced by Measure of America.
The study takes data on residents’ health, education and economic status and computes a well-being index, which is used to rank 436 congressional districts (the report includes the District of Columbia, which has a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives).
While rurality is one of the conditions that affects well being, it’s not an especially strong factor, Burd-Sharps told the Daily Yonder. Other factors like education levels explain more of the variance in the well-being report.
“If there is one magic bullet for well being, it’s education,” Burd-Sharps said. “People think of education as leading to a better job and a bigger paycheck. But it’s also true that better-educated people live longer, are more likely to vote, and are more likely to have kids who do well in school.”
“Disparity of Investment”
To get a sense of how rurality might figure into congressional district well-being rankings, we sorted districts by the percentage of population in each district that lives in a rural area. (We used Census congressional district data. That’s different from the Office of Management and Budget county level metropolitan statistical area system.)
In general, we found that as the percentage of rural population goes up, the congressional district’s well-being index tends to go down.
[imgcontainer] [img:Wellbeingbyrural.PNG][source]Daily Yonder. Data: Measure of AmericaThe black trendline shows that the well-being index tends to decline modestly as congressional districts become more rural.