The news about rural America – a place I consider to be the heart of America, where values and traditions endure – is, in a nutshell, not good.
Or better put: a lot of it is bad, but some of it is good.
For one thing, the Census released data earlier this month showing that everyone else in America is supposedly making “remarkable gains” in income (really?) and that poverty has dropped since 2015.
Everyone except the folks in rural America.
It should stand to reason that the money being made in cities would trickle down to rural areas but that isn’t the case, and the reason is because that money is circulating back into financial markets and not coming back out again.
No surprise that the record profits of our country’s corporations are lining the pockets of the people who own the corporations, and that’s bringing about the income inequality we hear so much about.
“Finance is ruining America,” shouted a headline in the Atlantic Monthly this month. The author reiterates the statistic that the average income of the top 1 percent of people is 25 times the average of the bottom 99 percent.
And the rise of the well-off is not pulling up those at the bottom. The financial industry is fueling extraordinary wealth for some without creating good jobs in the long term for the rest of us.
And taxes? The truth is that in a lot of states the middle class are paying higher taxes than the wealthy.
But there’s one guy who is fighting for rural America: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He was born in Pittsburgh but worked as both a lawyer and then as a two-term governor in Iowa.
“I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place,” he has said. He thinks the media, Congress and the private sector have ignored the struggles and contributions of our country’s rural regions.
He says he’s one of the most cantankerous cabinet members as he struggles to give voice to our country’s rural residents.
What he knows is this: About 21 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, with 30 percent of the people residing in substandard housing, not helped by the fact that the federal government has slashed support to its key rural low-income home loan program by 88 percent.
I have written before that there’s a push by the federal government to get people out of rural areas and into cities as cited by UN agenda 2020, and to do that they’ve withdrawn a lot of economic support and have scaled back on improving the infrastructure outside of big cities.
The good news for us is that in areas that serve as destination hubs for outdoor activities like boating or skiing, the demand for housing has caused property values to skyrocket.
While we might not have seen our real estate prices “skyrocket” as of late, that potential exists for the future, especially as people flee the ever-growing cities for vacation and family time.
Vilsack is our new cheerleader, eager to point to any good news. He wrote last week that populations appear to be stabilizing and are even beginning to grow. Unemployment has even dropped below 6 percent in some rural towns and hunger is down, too.
Maybe we haven’t registered all of this good news in our own area just yet, but if you look closely, you may be able to point to some encouraging signs.
I, for example, have met four different young couples that have moved “home” after being away for a time, looking to raise their children near their families and where the world, as one young man put it, “is more sane.”
Statistics show there’s been an influx of people age 30 to 50 years old who are moving out of larger metropolitan areas and into smaller towns. These people are bringing new ideas to our towns, they’re starting businesses and creating jobs. In fact, these new people are highly invested in the communities they’re moving to.
There’s a new restaurant in Mayville called The White Carrot opened by Brian Kendall who grew up in Bemus Point.
He left the area years ago to get his culinary education in Florida, France and Manhattan and now he’s back to grace our county with an innovative farm-to-table menu.
I’ve used this column to showcase the exciting changes in our area quite often. We have a lot to be proud of. We live in a place that our young people are often glad to come back to.
I’d like to send a letter to secretary Vislack and invite him for a visit. The people of our community are an excellent example of rural strength and ingenuity.
I think he’d be proud. We should be too.