The Republican Party is entrenched in rural America with the overwhelming majority of small towns being represented by the GOP. But the population in these areas are under a huge decline.
That’s a nightmare scenario for Republicans in Congress, whose districts are determined by population. The Republican Party has worked diligently to ensure gerrymandering can protect their rural members as the population shifts toward the suburbs.
One key component of the Affordable Care Act went to subsidizing rural hospitals to prevent them from closing. Most of that has been defunded by Republicans if the states were even willing to allow Medicare/Medicaid expansion in the state, to begin with. A Navigant report out earlier this year showed that more than one in five rural hospitals have closed so far.
Chronically poor rural communities lost 14 percent of the population “between 1990 and 2015, which is far worse than the 27-percent population gain of the nation as a whole,” explained CityLab. Transitioning rural areas are ones where manufacturing once reigned supreme. With deindustrialization, however, some areas have suffered. On the whole, however, such rural communities held on to their populations and grew 11 percent. The rural communities that have been able to not only survive but thrive are those that offer something unique. Mountains, lakes, and coastlines are more likely to attract young people who want to live in rural areas.
To make matters worse, the people willing to resettle in rural areas are older. For smaller communities to survive, they have to find ways to incentivize young people to create their own jobs or get jobs online. Rural communities lost 400,000 jobs from 2007 to 2015 alone. The problem with online jobs, of course, is that super-fast highspeed internet isn’t available in rural areas. Most communities are lucky to even have broadband.
In Kansas, a program was started to get young people back into rural areas by paying off student loans. A Newsy video showed how Nicole Ludwig was able to start her own business with the help of the Kansas Rural Opportunity Zone program. It gives students $3,000 each year for up to five years toward their student loans if they move to a rural county in Kansas. Ludwig graduated from Fort. Hays State University with $25,000 in student loan debt, which is near the average cost most American students graduate with today. The average graduate must pay $400 each month just to stay on top of their loan payments.
Graduates typically flock to urban metro areas, where there are more options for jobs and better-paying jobs. A study from the Federal Reserve showed that rural students who borrowed money from their hometown banks were able to pay the loans off faster when living in urban areas. They’re also less likely to be delinquent on the loans and more likely to buy a home over time.
The Center for Economic Development and Business Research in Kansas showed that the state’s population in rural areas is expected to decline significantly over the next 20 years. The Rural Opportunity Zone project, however, is already showing promise for keeping young people in small communities, however. The program was so effective in Kansas that rural communities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Vermont are all starting or working on similar programs. Most opportunities for students in rural communities are agriculture-related. Some have to do with healthcare or education, but for students that focused on other fields, jobs can be limited.
Trump’s pandering to rural areas hasn’t resulted in much of an impact since he was elected in 2016. Trump’s trade war has seriously harmed those working in agriculture. Promises for the fastest internet in every area of the country have gone unfulfilled. Hospital closures have added the problem that people have no access to care in an emergency. For young families, school consolidation means the lifeblood of a community can sometimes be a 60-minute drive round-trip just for a high school football game.
Year after year, Republicans failed rural America, wrote former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in an April op-ed. Yet, they still manage to get reelected. Refusing to support Democrats has alienated liberals from being willing to campaign in the conservative areas, which could help them understand and empathize with the issues their communities face.
“Given the persistence of rural economic woes and the lack of a clear path to a better future, it’s understandable that in 2016 rural voters took a long shot on a wild card candidate,” Heitkamp wrote.
It’s unclear if they’ll be willing to continue to support those candidates refusing to come to their aid.
Watch the video on the ROZ program below:
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