Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A "rural Princess Leia"

That was a headline I simply could not resist.  It quotes this New York Times story about Vivian Howard, a celebrity chef with her own television show, "A Chef's Life."  Kim Severson's feature about Howard tells of the woman's 2005 return to Deep Run, her hometown in eastern North Carolina, after working as a waitress and selling homemade soup out of her apartment in New York City.  Howard and her husband opened their restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, a few years later in nearby Kinston, and Severson suggests that Howard has become a hometown hero, helping to revitalize the area, in part because so many people come from out of state to eat at Howard's restaurant.  (As Howard points out, however, if the rising tide in Kinston had lifted all boats, there wouldn't be a need for a soup kitchen--to which Howard contributes--and a food pantry).

Here's an excerpt from Severson's feature that includes that magic Star Wars inspired phrase:
to many of the show’s three million fans, and to the guests who travel hundreds of miles to eat at her restaurant, Ms. Howard is a rural Princess Leia. In the wake of an election that laid bare the nation’s political, cultural and economic divisions, her life has a particular resonance with the kind of people who see her story as theirs.
Another segment of the story also gets at the rural-urban divide--and, indeed, the urban-over-rural hierarchy.  Regarding the restaurant:
At first, they served fancy city food. She remembers the day her sister pointed out that three of the four desserts had vegetables in them, and that didn’t mean carrot cake. 
Severson quotes Howard:
I was cooking down to people.  I didn’t feel like these people had anything to teach me. 
Ultimately, Howard chose to "embrace the local dishes she had grown up eating."
She could elevate the wild muscadine grapes, the slow-simmered butter beans and the “tom thumbs” — air-dried pork sausages whose casings are made from pig appendixes. In the process, she elevated herself. She came to consider the people in her town as guides to a stronger, simpler way of living.
As this quote suggests, the story is heavy on rural nostalgia, but it is nevertheless well worth a read in its entirety--not only for its feel-good value but because of what it might teach us about the current cultural and political rift between rural and urban.  I love this quote from Howard:
What I came to realize was that much of rural America feels forgotten and misunderstood and, frankly, hopeless.  Urban folks are afraid of rural folks, and rural folks are afraid of urban folks. On our show, we try to bridge the gap.
I don't know that I would choose the word "afraid," but I think Howard is on to something with that observation about rural and urban being in different orbits these days--with some feeling quite a bit of despair about that state of affairs.

Rural and urban are mostly talking past each other these days, with plenty of disdain flowing both ways across the rural-urban divide.   

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The NY Times returns to the "scene of the crime"--um, I mean "election": rural Iowa

The New York Times today published this story, "In Iowa, Trump Voters are Unfazed by Controversies," the latest in many media outlets' return to "rural" areas to talk to voters about how they're feeling regarding the Trump transition--especially given that Trump garnered a high level of support from rural voters.  (See more post election coverage on the rural vote here, here and here).  The dateline for this particular story, by Trip Gabriel, is Monticello, Iowa, in the east central part of the state, near the Mississippi River and Illinois, and not far from the University of Iowa.

Gabriel's home base there is Darryl's Diner, which has a "Table of Knowledge,"--actually two of them, one for Democrats and one for Republicans.

Gabriel had spent time in Iowa for the New York Times in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign (meaning, of course, 2015).  He had gone to Monticello, in Jones County, because it was the first stop in Hillary Clinton's campaign in Iowa.  With hindsight, Gabriel reflects, the early media chase of HRC all looks rather silly.  Gabriel observes:
The Iowans I interviewed largely went about their lives outside the political hothouse social media. They did not follow hour-by-hour developments of the presidential transition. Indeed, on Wednesday, several were unfamiliar with the reports that Russia was holding compromising information on the president-elect, which Mr. Trump addressed in a news conference.
Many were hazy on specific policy details about how, say, House Republicans were seeking to replace Medicare with a voucher system. These voters feared an outbreak of European-style terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States, maybe in their own communities. And overwhelmingly, Trump supporters did not want their hard-earned money redistributed to people they regarded as undeserving.
One resident of Monticello observed that some of his neighbors had voted against "their own self interests" by supporting Trump, who was "against T.P.P. [Trans Pacific Partnership], which would help exports of ag commodities." 

Gabriel also reported from other places around the state, including Des Moines County, in the southeast part of Iowa (not the same area as Des Moines city, Iowa).  There he talked to Sandy Dockendorff, who seeks to be chairperson of the state Democratic Party.  Gabriel quotes Dockendorff:  
It was all about making fun of Donald Trump — he would never be president and how horrible it would be [but] the only one talking about jobs was Trump. 
Interestingly, I have seen thorough analysis indicating that Clinton actually talked about jobs more than Trump--and in those terms.  Nevertheless, before I read that analysis, my overall impression of the Clinton campaign was the same as Dockendorff.  She also notes that "rural Iowans were critical of Democrats for opposing job-creating projects like oil pipelines."  

Another recent NYTimes story, this one a few days ago out of Covington, Louisiana (population 8,765, but part of the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner Metropolitan Area), featured interviews with--again--mostly "good ol' boys," middle-aged and elderly men, offering opinions about reports that Russians had influenced the 2016 election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee and releasing emails and other information.    

Like many in Iowa, these Louisianans were firmly casting their lots with Trump, skeptical of what the mainstream media (a/k/a liberal press) had to say.  Here, from that story's lede, are three quotes from three different residents about the particular issue of Russia hacking the election:
“Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s. 
“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him. 
“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.
Another resident, David Gubert, said, "If that's [hacking is] what it took, I'm glad they [the Russians] did it."

So there you have it.  Southern "rural" voters--at least the middle-aged white ones--seem to view things in a more one-sided fashion than the rural Iowans, though both seem unbothered by Russia's role in our election.   (Thanks to Campbell Robertson and Mitch Smith for reporting).

Postscript.  This NPR story on January 14 out of a rural part of metropolitan Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, features a youngish couple who voted for Trump, noting the wife, Jamie Ruppert, voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  She is a jobs-focused voter who was drawn to Trump's "Make America Great Again" mantra.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The strangest thing happened at the AALS last week

I have attended the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting for many of the 17+ years I have been a law professor, but I experienced something at last week's annual conference in San Francisco that I had never before seen or heard, something that came as a pleasant surprise.   Attendees were actually talking about rural people and places--including in a plenary session on the future of the legal profession.

For more than a decade now, I have worked to establish as a sub-discipline what I call "law and rural livelihoods" (I've taught a seminar by that name for eight years), and my Legal Ruralism blog is part of that effort.  One of my overarching arguments is that most legal scholarship implicitly embraces an urban norm--and that some legal scholarship is explicitly urbanormative.  Yet in all my years of attending gatherings of law professors, I have consistently been the only person in the room talking about rural people and places--I've literally been the only person using the word "rural."  I've often joked that I'm the "rural lady," perhaps analogous to SNL's "church lady," a character with a one-track mind who keeps showing up and making the same overarching point.  Over the years, this approach has attracted a lot of eye-rolling, ongoing marginalization.  But it has remained the case that rural people and places have been omitted from so many scholarly conversations about law--and from so many scholarly works on topics that, to my mind, have an obvious rural or spatial angle, e.g., reproductive justice, poverty.

So, imagine my surprise when, following the plenary on "Preparing a Diverse Profession to Serve a Diverse World," with key note by Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft Corporation (and, incidentally, my boss at Covington & Burling London in 1992 and later my client, from 1996-98, when I returned to Covington and he was in house at Microsoft),  Lauren Robel of Indiana University School of Law asked the first question, which was essentially "what about rural?"  She noted that she had recently been in southern Indiana, which is quite rural, and that shortages of broadband and lawyers are two challenges plaguing the region.  She also referenced the recent NPR story about the "epic" shortage of rural lawyers, a story that quoted me and mentioned the work I have done on the rural lawyer shortage.  After Robel broke the ice with a reference to rural Indiana, several others referenced "rural" in the ensuing conversation.  This was interesting in part because Smith had, early in his talk, referenced a small town in southwest Virginia where Microsoft has a server farm, but he had not used the word "rural."  As the conversation unfolded, however, the word became part of the discussion in a way that seemed, well, natural.

This was somewhat similar to what had happened the day before in a discussion session in which I participated:   Community Development Law and Economic Justice--Why Law Matters.  About a dozen scholars were invited in advance to participate in this discussion, including me.  Because I don't "do" community development law or work as such, I assumed I was invited to participate because of my work on rurality, including rural poverty, thus implicating issues of economic justice.  Once I got the ball rolling by talking about my rural-focused scholarship, several other participants mentioned "rural," including "rural and urban," as in referencing the prospect of intra-regional CED collaborations and such.  (Let me be clear that this usually doesn't happen; when I'm on a panel talkig about "rural," I typically remain silo-ed as such).  I commented that I thought much of the attention to "rural and urban" was racially coded (though it is not necessarily accurate to conflate rurality with whiteness, it is a common phenomenon), as a way to get at cross-racial collaborations, which I very much support (indeed, cross-racial cooperation among low-income folks is a big focus of my scholarship right now).  I also joked that I had not heard as many mentions of "rural" in my entire 17 years of attending law prof. conferences as I had in that 1.75 hour-long session!  Perhaps colleagues in this session--where I was invited to the conversation because I am a ruralist--were humoring me.

So, is this attention to rurality among legal educators the wave of the future?  or just a temporary dalliance, a moment of intrigue and curiosity, as we absorb the results of the 2016 election and the role that rural America apparently played in Trump's win?  I'm hoping for the former because mainstream (even liberal! highly educated! elite!) attention to rural issues and rural people might help us avert another electoral disaster in two years, or four.

Cross-posted to UC Davis Faculty Blog.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Op-ed on the rural vote in today's NYT

The New York Times today published an op-ed by Iowa journalist, Robert Leonard, "Why Rural America Voted for Trump."  Leonard rehashes a lot of the now familiar election post-mortem on the rural vote, but there are a few points I've not seen made elsewhere--at least not recently.

One is that it's not just the old-timer vote, it's the youth vote in rural America.  Here's a segment that is particularly haunting to me, where Leonard writes of:
a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.
As this excerpt suggests, the piece is strong on the culture wars and religion, though he also takes up other issues, such as rural disgruntlement over lack of investment in roads and other infrastructure to support nonmetropolitan areas.  
In state capitols across America, lawmakers spend billions of dollars to take a few seconds off a city dweller’s commute to his office, while rural counties’ farm-to-market roads fall into disrepair. Some of the paved roads in my region are no longer maintained and are reverting to gravel. For a couple of generations now, services that were once scattered across rural areas have increasingly been consolidated in urban areas, and rural towns die. It’s all done in the name of efficiency.
But again, the most potent and sobering part of this opinion piece regards a cultural divide between Democrats and Republicans, a divide increasingly aligning along the rural-urban axis.  Leonard concludes:
The Republican brand is strong in rural America — perhaps even strong enough to withstand a disastrous Trump presidency.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An unusual headline: on the settlement of a sex offender in a rural place

After the 2016 election, I decided it would be a good idea to follow a wider array of news sources and commentators on Twitter, to get out of my liberal blue bubble.  Not sure why, but one that came across my Twitter feed was the Grand Forks Herald, out of Grand Forks, North Dakota (home of the University of North Dakota and the third largest metropolitan area in the state).  The most memorable item I have seen on the news website until recently was this video of an ice-covered ship coming into the harbor of Duluth, Minnesota.  That was the most memorable item, anyway, until I saw this a few days ago: "Registered Sex Offender Moving to Rural Erskine, Minnesota."  You will no doubt--like me--want to know the population of Erskine.  It is 503, and Erskine is part of the Grand Forks, ND-MN Metropolitan Area.  Here is the story, accompanied by a photo of the man:
A Level 3 predatory sex offender will be living in the rural Erskine, Minn., area, according to a statement by the Polk County Sheriff's Office Thursday.

According to the state Department of Corrections, Lonny Jerome Cote, 61, has a registered address of U.S. Highway 59 Southeast in the Erskine area. He has a history of sexual contact with female victims between the ages of 4 and 14. 
Representatives of the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Corrections will be available at a community notification meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m., Jan. 5 at the Erskine Community Center, 105 Ross Ave.
I was surprised at this very public announcement of the location of the sex offender, and it reminded me of some cases I read a few years ago (when I started writing about rural-urban difference in relation to the law) about the old practice of banishment as punishment--effectively casting out members of society, typically into sparsely populated spaces, relegating them to the rural, if you will.  

Now this in relation to sex offender registries and rurality:  I know that information about the location of sex offenders is intended to be public, but I wonder how often it is so prominently displayed in newspapers, be they rural or urban.  In a rural community, of course, it may be harder for a registered sex offender to situate himself as far away from schools as the law requires--unless he is in open space, the countryside, and not in a small town. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

More on deaths of despair, this time from Chillicothe, Ohio

Here is the Washington Post story by Joel Achenbach about addiction in Chillicothe, Ohio, population 21,727, where the poverty rate of 24.3%.  Achenbach further ets the stage:
Chillicothe is a historic town in a transitional landscape. To the north and west are fields of corn and soybeans, a classic, flat Midwestern terrain. To the south and east are the foothills of Appalachia, with winding country roads that, when crossing a stream, narrow to a single lane.
The story introduces a number of women living in a halfway house recovering from addiction, and then this summary of what is happening:
These women are trying to survive an epidemic of self-destruction in small-town and rural America. Death rates have risen sharply among whites, particularly women, particularly those with a high school education or less — the white working class that played a key role in the November election. Last year, overall life expectancy in the United States fell for the first time since 1993, when HIV was rampant. 
Today there is no emergent virus running amok. Instead, Americans are dying from a rash of pathologies, sicknesses and addictions that experts call “diseases of despair.”
This is the most recent of a Washington Post series of stories about these deaths of despair, most of them focusing on white women.  One of the prior stories, out of Las Animas County, Colorado, is here.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Small-town Oklahoma newspaper still paying a price for Clinton endorsement

Manny Fernandez reports for the New York Times today from Enid, Oklahoma regarding the backlash that The Enid News and Eagle newspaper has suffered for endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton for President.  The headline speaks volumes, "An Oklahoma Newspaper Endorsed Clinton.  It Hasn't Been Forgiven."  As Fernandez writes, the paper is a "red newspaper in a red county in what is arguably the reddest of states."  (See my prior commentary on Oklahoma voting here).  Here's what the paper did to cause such a fuss: 
The editorial board, in a gray-shaded column on Page A4 on Oct. 9, wrote that Donald J. Trump lacked “the skills, experience or temperament to hold office.” The headline and subhead read: “For U.S. president: Hillary Clinton is our choice for commander in chief.” 
Among the paper's 10,000 subscribers, 162 canceled their subscriptions, a far higher rate of retaliatory cancellation than those suffered by papers like The Dallas Morning News and The Arizona Republic, which also deviated from their long, Republican-leaning track records when they, too, endorsed Clinton.  Fernandez's report suggests that the response in Enid has been rather personal, as one might expect in a small-ish town, with its high density of acquaintanceship.  The executive editor, Rob Collins, explains that he has "talked a lot of people off the ledge," when they have called to cancel their subscriptions.  This quote from Collins provides a vignette of small-town relationships in this municipality of about 50,000, in nonmetropolitan Garfield County:
People knew my dad or know my mom and know my family here. A lot of people who were angry called expecting me to argue right back with them. Really, the only time I would raise my voice is when I would get cursed at or yelled at, which I don’t really like.  
I hope people can respect that we’re entitled to our opinion, too, and that that can be different from news.
In addition to the cancelled subscriptions, The News & Eagle has suffered other consequences:  
Eleven advertisers pulled their ads, including a funeral home that had a sizable account. Someone stuck a “Crooked Hillary” bumper sticker on the glass doors of the paper’s downtown office. A man left a late-night message on the publisher’s voice mail, expressing his hope that readers would deliver, to put it delicately, a burning sack of steaming excrement to the paper.
Fernandez notes the the paper did add one subscriber as a result of the Clinton endorsement.

The News and Eagle is owned by Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., whose holdings include newspapers and websites in 23 states.  The editorial endorsement, however, was drafted locally, by Enid reporters and editors.

I like this quote from Terry Clark, Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.
There used to be a saying that the editorial page was the soul of a newspaper, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of weak-souled newspapers in the country because they’re afraid to offend anybody.  This is an excellent example of the way American journalism ought to be — standing for something — and, man, it takes guts to do that in Enid, Okla.
This story is just one more reminder to me of how strongly so many folks opposed Hillary Clinton.  And that, I can't help believe, implicates attitudes about gender as much as anything else.   

NPR on mobile home "parks": the good, the bad, and the ugly in rural Idaho and suburban Minneapolis

Don't miss this two-part NPR series by Daniel Zwerdling here.  Part one features a mobile home park in Syringa, Idaho, on the outskirts of Moscow, home of the University of Idaho.  This manufactured home community has a remote landlord, which leads to problems for its residents, who typically own their homes but not the land on which those homes sit.  The residents pay rent to the landlord, in this case a man named Magar Magar, who lives hundreds of miles away in Vancouver, Washington.  A brief excerpt from the story follows:  
Since the 1980s, this community of roughly 100 houses has been plagued repeatedly by drinking water problems — including periods with contaminated water or no water at all. Rivers of raw sewage have occasionally gushed out of the ground and formed stinky ponds around homes. One resident has filled a cardboard box with videocassettes that he shot to document some of the incidents. Conditions in the neighborhood have become so bad that some people have abandoned their houses and moved out.
But some of these residents, who bought their homes for as little as $10,000, have no place to go except a homeless shelter if they are forced out of their trailers.  

As Zwerdling explains, state regulators have little leverage over these private landowners, and letters of demand from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to Magar went unanswered.  
But state officials lost their patience almost three years ago and took Magar to court. The Idaho Conservation League also sued Magar for allegedly letting Syringa's sewage system pollute a nearby river. And a legal aid clinic at the University of Idaho law school filed a class action lawsuit against Magar, on behalf of Syringa's residents. That suit asks the court to order Magar not only to fix the problems at Syringa, but to award financial damages to its residents.
A few days before the class action was to go to trial, however, Magar declared bankruptcy, thereby protecting himself, at least temporarily, from the suit.  

Part Two of Zwerdling's series is here, "When Residents Take Ownership, a Mobile Home Community Thrives."  The dateline for this one is Fridley, Minnesota, and it is a much more uplifting story, that of Park Place Mobile Home Park and its residents.  Zwerdling reports:
Five years ago, the residents banded together, formed a nonprofit co-op and bought their entire neighborhood from the company that owned it. Today, these residents exert democratic control over almost 9 acres of prime suburbs, with 80 manufactured houses sited on them.
Most of us don't think much about mobile homes--or when we do, our associations are entirely negative.  That makes me especially grateful for Zwerdling's reporting on what he explains are "an important source of affordable housing."  Two rural sociologists, Sonya Salamon (emeritus, University of Illinois), Katherine MacTavish of Oregon State University, and Michele Ely of North Carolina A & T have written a great deal about mobile home parks over the years, including this and this. I understand that Salamon and MacTavish are working on a book on the subject.

Monday, December 26, 2016

On Appalachia Part II: Post-mortem on Election 2016, with reference to pre-election coverage

I'm looking back at some of the more interesting pieces on the Appalachian vote--pieces written before the election which might have given us a heads up on the outcome except that we saw the voices included in them too marginal.  I suppose we thought these were just Appalachian voices and didn't realize the extent to which they represented more than that--in particular, the extent to which they represented dis-gruntled white working class voters in other places, too, e.g., Michigan and Wisconsin.

Here's one by Roger Cohen, NY Times columnist, published a full two months before the election, "We Need 'Somebody Spectacular':  Views from Trump Country."  In one of the most expansive and thoughtful pieces I have read pre- or (now again) post-election, Cohen reports from two different regions of Kentucky, Paris in "horse country," and Hazard, in coal country.  These are regions with largely differing economic faces and fates, but Cohen finds a small business woman in the more middle-class Paris area (just half an hour from Lexington) who is struggling--and who plans to vote for Trump.  He gets his "something spectacular" quote from her, along with this:
This is the most fired-up I’ve ever been for a candidate. ... Sure, he’s kind of a loose cannon, but he tells it the way it is and, if elected, people will be there to calm him down a bit, tweak a word or two in his speeches. And I just don’t trust Hillary Clinton.
She says she voted for Obama but that we now need Trump to "clean up this mess Obama has left us."  Interesting in light of that quote is the fact that she and her husband have also struggled to keep healthcare.  (And for a full treatment of that paradox, a terrific post-election story about Kentuckians and Obamacare is here, by Sarah Kliff on Vox).

From more impoverished coal country, Hazard (in Perry County), Cohen quotes Paul Bush:
Trump’s going to get us killed, probably! But I’ll vote for him anyway over Hillary. If you vote for Hillary you vote for Obama, and he’s made it impossible to ship coal. This place is about dried up. A job at Wendy’s is the only thing left. We may have to move.
Note the "we may have to move," comment, regarding the lack of jobs.  And think about it in relation to rural folks' attachment to place.  In other words, to many rural residents, the thought of leaving their home town is a big deal.  Bush continues:
Yeah, another year without change and they’ll be shutting Hazard down.
Obama’s probably never known hardship. He and Hillary don’t get it. At least Trump don’t hold nothing back: If he don’t like something, he tells you about it.
Another fascinating quote is from Philip Clemons, who owns both a restaurant and a mining company in Hazard.  Clemons is quick to play the "race card," albeit in an unusual way--or perhaps one not so unusual for white folks in racially homogeneous areas, who are particularly likely to view themselves as colorblind and not to have been exposed to ideas such as structural racism and implicit bias:
I don’t dislike people because of their color. I liked Herman Cain a lot. I can tell you the only black person who’s ever been mean to me is Barack Obama.
Cohen also interviewed academics for his story, like Al Cross, a University of Kentucky Professor.  Cross explains Trump's appeal--beyond the issue of coal--in the Bluegrass State:
Trump’s appeal is nationalistic, the authoritarian shepherd of the flock. That’s why evangelical Christians are willing to vote for this twice-divorced man who brags about the size of his penis. There’s a strong belief here still in America as special and exceptional, and Obama is seen as having played that down.
Note the nostalgia associated with this idea of American exceptionalism.  Cohen quotes political scientist Norman Ornstein for a similar proposition:
“Somebody is taking everything you are used to and you had”—your steady middle-class existence, your values, your security. 
(Some new and salient analysis re the psychology of the Trump voter is here). As Cohen observes, "Now Kentuckians are clambering aboard the Trump train — and to heck with its destination."

This reminds me of an email I got after I appeared on OnPoint Radio in mid November to talk about the working class white vote.  One listener, an avocado farmer in California, emailed me with this:
The status quo won't cut it. My margins are thinning, some because of normal supply and demand in nature, others are the increasing demands of government through rules and regulations that may be all well and good, but who cares if you see your financial situation collapse.  I'm under no illusion as to what may or may not be accomplished under Trumps tenure, but I'm one of the "burn it down" voters.
Another interesting quote in the Cohen piece that goes more to the matter of identity politics--albeit not entirely distinct from economic distress--is this one from Jim Webb, the former U.S. Senator from Virginia and author of Born Fighting about the history of the Scots-Irish.  The Democratic Party, Webb says,
"has now built its constituency based on ethnic groups other than white working people.” The frustration of these people, whether they are in Kentucky, or Texas, or throughout the Midwest, is acute. They are looking for “someone who will articulate the truth of their disenfranchisement,” as Webb put it. Trump, for all his bullying petulance, has come closest to being that politician, which is why millions of Americans support him.
This October story from the Washington Post also spoke to Trump's overwhelming appeal in Appalachia, with the focus here on John Boehner's old district in the Cincinnati area.  Journalist James Hohmann quotes a man who cleans benzene pots at the AK Steel plant in Middletown, Ohio--in other words, a working class grunt:
I don’t understand how [Hillary Clinton's] doing anything in the polls. I see Hillary for prison, but there’s no Hillary for president signs anywhere. It’s just impossible for me to believe that they’re neck and neck.
Funny, I remember reading this and, from my perch in metropolitan California, thinking just the opposite: Who's going to vote for Trump?  Very few folks around me, at least based on the paucity of Trump Pence yard signs.  In any event, Hohmann's story discusses the politics of the region in relation to J.D. Vance's best selling Hillbilly Elegy (2016), which is discussed at the periphery of this post and more critically here in the Daily Yonder and here in the New Republic).

And here's a Sheryl Gay Stolberg piece that appeared in the New York Times several weeks after the election, "Trump's Promises Will be Hard to Keep, But Coal Country has Faith."  As the headline suggests, this piece queries--as have a number of stories since Trump's electoral success--whether he will be able to keep many of the campaign promises he made (at rallies during his victory tour in recent weeks, he has admitted he doesn't plan to "lock up Hillary"--that it was a theme that sounded better before the election. Stolberg's story, which is relatively heavy on religion, features Bo Copley, a 39-year-old mine maintenance planner who asked Hillary Clinton a question when she visited West Virginia in May, 2016:  How could she "come in here and tell us you're going to be our friend?," having dismissed coal's future. Copley says he
was “very uncomfortable” with Donald J. Trump then, he said. But over time, in a paradox of the Bible Belt, Mr. Copley, a deeply religious father of three, put his faith in a trash-talking, thrice-married Manhattan real estate mogul as a savior for coal country — and America. 
“God has used unjust people to do his will,” Mr. Copley said, explaining his vote.
An earlier pre-election post about Trump's popularity among rural voters was based on a U.S. News and World Report story headlined "Penthouse Populist." Finally, this by Alec MacGillis, post-election, is also very telling re: Ohio (though not necessarily the Appalachian part).

See also, as a post script, this from Greg Sargent of the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2016, referencing this CNN piece re: the uptick in black lung disease and the Trump threat to Obamacare.

You know it's a slow news day when the rural lawyer shortage makes national news

And that's what happened this morning, as NPR's morning edition picked up a story by Grant Gerlock of Harvest Public Media regarding the rural lawyer shortage and Nebraska's new effort to respond to it.  I wrote a post about this new Nebraska effort just a few weeks ago.  Gerlock's story, which ran on Nebraska Public Radio back in November, quotes me and references my work on the rural lawyer shortage.  I was surprised to hear the story on national radio this morning, in a somewhat shortened form.  Of course, the day after Christmas must be a slow news day, so perhaps not a lot of competition for content.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Suicide rates highest for farmers, among all occupations

The Grand Island Independent reported last week on the high rate of suicides among farmers--the highest, in fact, among all occupational groups.  Brandi Janssen of the University of Iowa Department of Public Health wrote the story, which is based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control.   Here's an excerpt from the story:  
[S]uicide rates for workers in the agricultural, fishing and forestry industry are the highest of any other occupational group, exceeding rates in other high-risk populations, including veterans.

Suicide is not typically thought of as an occupational fatality, but the CDC report sheds some light on how occupations might be one contributor to suicide.

The phenomenon is not new in agriculture, and those of us who lived on farms during the 1980s certainly remember how the crashing agricultural economy affected rural communities. High profile acts of violence were often linked to farm foreclosures and financial stress.
Janssen notes that the National Farm Medicine Center, based in Marshfield, Wisconsin, tracked farm suicides in the Upper Midwest, the area most affected by the farm crisis, back in the 1980s.
They found that 913 male farmers in the region committed suicide during that decade, with rates peaking in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 male farmers and ranchers.
Rates among the general population were around 31 suicides per 100,000 white males over the age of 20 during that same time period. 
Compare that with this year’s CDC report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males.
Janssen points out the obvious from this comparison:  suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50% higher than they were in 1982, when the farm crisis peaked.

Janssen notes the availability of several resources, namely the Iowa Concern Hotline and the Nebraska Farm Crisis Hotline.

Sadly, I have not seen any major news organization pick up this story, even as so-called "deaths of despair"--which include suicides--continue to garner considerable national attention.