Saturday, November 18, 2017

Quantifying the rural lawyer shortage - a summary and progress report

Anyone who read my previous posts will know that I have stated that there is a rural lawyer shortage in this country. When I began writing for this blog, I was working on a project for my MPA program that analyzed the supply of rural lawyers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. I hoped to find a relationship between the rural lawyer shortage and a number of different variables. My goal was to begin to formulate a policy solution to this problem. I have since finished that project and am happy to discuss my process and the results that I generated.

To start, I compared the location quotient and supply of lawyers per 10,000 residents to the same for family and general physicians, the local supply of lawyers to the median salary for lawyers in that given non-metropolitan area, and the local poverty rate to the supply of lawyers. My eventual ambition is to expand this project to include a more thorough analysis of all fifty states.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one nonmetropolitan area has a location quotient that exceeds 1.0. The lucky winner of that prize is Southwest Montana. This, of course, means that the underemployment of lawyers is a pandemic across rural America. What I found when I compared the supply of lawyers to supply of family and general physicians is that this seems to be a problem that is rather unique to the legal profession. My original hypothesis was that there may be a correlation between the supply of lawyers and doctors. The idea behind this hypothesis was that people in learned professions would tend to cluster together. If this were true, it would point to larger economic development issues in a particular rural community. However, if you look at this link, you would see that this is not true and my own regression analysis confirmed as such.

I also compared the local poverty rate to the supply of lawyers. Again - the idea that I pursued was whether or not local prosperity might be an indicator (or possibly even an attractor) of the supply of lawyers. I once again did not find any correlation.

My final comparison was between the median salary for lawyers and the supply of lawyers. I thought that a higher rate of pay might attract more lawyers to move to a certain area. There also appeared to be no correlation.

At the end of the project, I had all of my hypotheses disproven and was essentially left back at square one in terms of policy formulation. What was perhaps most frustrating however was learning that higher salaries and lower poverty (both indicators of a strong local economy) were not enough to attract lawyers to a given area, at least in the areas that I studied. Addressing the rural lawyer shortage is going to require action that goes beyond simple economic development.

My eventual hope is to further refine and publish this paper because I think that it provides an interesting comparison and illustrates how unique the rural lawyer shortage actually is and why it is something that we cannot simply brush aside. I also hope to expand to all 50 states to see if these patterns are true nationally or if this lack of correlation is unique to the Carolinas and Virginia. I suspect that these patterns are true nationally but I would have to crunch the numbers to say with absolute certainty whether or not this is true.


Friday, November 17, 2017

What the Tehama County, California shooting reveals (or confirms) about small-town law enforcement, justice

The Los Angeles Times has provided impressive coverage of Tuesday's deadly shooting rampage in remote Rancho Tehama Reserve, California, population 1,485.   The shooter, Kevin Janson Neal, killed five and wounded eight others before Tehama County law enforcement killed him, about an hour after his rampage began.  The most recent LA Times story provides information about prior restraining orders against Neal (as well as one against a neighbor with whom he had an ongoing fued).  The piece, by Paige St. John, Joseph Serna, Hailey Branson-Potts and Ruben Vives, makes frequent references to the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities and to the role that this phenomenon played in Tuesday's shooting, as well as the events leading up to it.  Here's the story's lede: 
The screaming and gunfire coming from Kevin Neal’s blue mobile home last week was so disturbing that Jayne Barnes-Vinson called the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office to complain. 
“I heard a man and a woman screaming, like fighting, and the man was shooting off rounds like an automatic gun. So I was scared,” Barnes-Vinson said. 
Deputies arrived, she said, but told her they could not pinpoint the source of the gunfire. 
Neal’s penchant for firing off guns and threatening neighbors was well-known in this rural corner of Northern California even though he was barred from having any guns in his possession.
Because of the numerous restraining orders against him, Neal was required to surrender his firearms.  Records indicate that he had surrendered several guns.  The two handguns he possessed at the time of his rampage were registered to other owners, and the semi-automatic weapon he used was essentially "home-made."

Neal also faced a number felony charges in Tehama County, "including accusations of second-degree robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent firing of a firearm, battery and false imprisonment by violence." Many of the charges stemmed from disputes with his neighbors, including a January 31 assault of a neighbor with a knife.

The LA Times story also provides a great deal of context regarding the challenges facing rural law enforcement officers in situations like this one, including those challenges associated with the remoteness of the place. Indeed, from the earliest accounts of this incident on Tuesday, radio and newspaper coverage mentioned that Rancho Tehama Reserve--apparently known locally as "the Reserve," was half an hour from the county seat, Red Bluff, which would necessarily impact law enforcement response time. Rancho Tehama Reserve is unincorporated and apparently has no more local law enforcement, relying instead on the County Sheriff's staff.

As for whether the Tehama County Sheriff's office should have acted preemptively in the face of numerous neighbors' complaints, the Times quotes Dmitry Gorin, a criminal defense attorney and former Los Angeles County sex crimes prosecutor:
I’m surprised there was not more action done. If the suspect is criminally charged in court, is accused of violence … there’s usually some action by the district attorney or law enforcement.
The Times also quotes Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who recognizes at least implicitly that rural law enforcement are short on resources: 
I’m not going to suggest they’re missing anything. Sometimes there’s a system that’s overwhelmed and they can’t do everything.  It’s just a lack of resources and it’s a matter of prioritization. 
The story closes with a quote from Jayne Barnes-Vinson, the neighbor who reported gunfire at the Neal home last week: 
That’s the thing about out there.  You could kill somebody out there, and nobody would know. It is a good community, don’t get me wrong, but it is remote.
Indeed, law enforcement revealed on Wednesday that Neal's killing spree began on Monday night when he killed his wife, Barbara Gilson, and hid her body beneath the floor of their trailer home.  The next morning, the initial targets of his shooting rampage were his neighbors, two of whom he murdered.  He also attacked the vehicle of a third neighbor, critically wounding the female driver who was taking her three young children to school.

Tehama County, population 63,463, is about two hours north of Sacramento. 

Postscript:  After I wrote this blog post, the Times posted this story by Joseph Serna revealing more information about the breakdown by which the local criminal justice system failed to act more definitely against Neal, even as he frequently fired his guns and threatened his neighbors.  The headline is "Rampage killer's repeated weapons violation were never reported to prosecutors, district attorney says."  Here's a salient quote:
Tehama County Dist. Atty. Gregg Cohen said Friday that had prosecutors known about the complaints, his office could have filed a motion to increase Neal’s $160,000 bond or filed misdemeanor charges for violating the court order that barred him from having weapons.
Serna quotes Cohen:
I wasn’t aware of the fact that he was continuing to shoot.  We would need some kind of report, some kind of proof that it was happening.  Just someone saying he didn’t turn in all his guns. ... That is the first time [I have heard about the neighbors' complaints].  I don’t want to throw the sheriff’s office under the bus.
As for the Tehama County sheriff's office, they seem to be saying that they did not report the weapons violation to the prosecutor because they could not substantiate it, even though they twice placed Neal's trailer under surveillance.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Roy Moore and small-town barriers to justice

Media accounts often implicate rural issues related to access to justice, though the connection is not always obvious at first blush.  Perhaps no story better illustrates this point than the recent allegations against the candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore.  Moore, a small-town lawyer turned-twice-removed Alabama Supreme Court justice, is now facing multiple allegations of inappropriate conduct with underage women in the 1970s.  Many have asked why the women (girls, some of them, at the time) did not come forward sooner.  I assert that the answer to this question lies in the complex barriers that have long deterred those in rural communities from pursuing legal redress.

By now, we are all familiar with the allegations against Alabama Senate Republican nominee Roy Moore. The salacious accounts, initially published by the Washington Post, paint Moore as an opportunistic predator who used his power and influence in the small city of Gadsden, Alabama as a means to attract and "romance" teenage girls. A report from a former co-worker notes that Moore's affairs with teenage girls were "common knowledge." Moore himself issued a sloppily worded defense on Sean Hannity's program, where he stated that he could not deny that he had dated teenage girls in the past.

Many, including Moore himself, have asked why these women would wait four decades to come forward with their stories. Steve Bannon has even accused Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of engaging in a  conspiracy to destroy Moore's candidacy. The people who ask these questions seem  ignorant of the social dynamics of tight-knit rural communities and the secrecy that can often times be fostered by these communities.

As the WaPo story notes, Moore was seen as a local hero. Like many rural communities, Gadsden (population 37,000), has been in a state of decline that was brought upon it by a loss of manufacturing jobs. With opportunities few and far between, the fact that Moore had managed to gain admission to West Point and then to law school was seen as an inspiration to the people of the town. As is common in many rural communities, being a lawyer also conferred a certain amount of social capital upon Moore. The level of admiration for Moore was such that when Debbie Wesson Gibson asked for her mother's permission to date Moore, her mother told that she would be the "luckiest girl in the world" if Moore, then 34, were interested in her.

To make allegations against Roy Moore in 1970s Alabama would have been a tremendous uphill climb for anyone, much less a teenager. Even his co-workers viewed Moore's tendency to date teenagers as essentially a personality quirk, not anything that warranted investigation and possible prosecution. As Moore himself noted in his interview with Sean Hannity, he never dated a girl without her mother's permission. The WaPo story even notes an instance where Moore stopped dating a girl when her mother did not give permission for the relationship to continue. From the evidence presented, it seems that Moore was careful to target girls whose parents were okay with the age difference and at least, in one case, encouraged the relationship to continue.

In small towns, relationships and social standing are both very important forms of currency. In sociologist Cynthia Duncan's book Worlds Apart, Duncan tells a story about a young man in a small town in Appalachia that is able to secure a bank loan with no questions asked because of a familial relationship with a person with whom the banker had done business.  The young man's relationships and social standing made him inherently trustworthy and conferred upon him a certain amount of credibility. Roy Moore was certainly a beneficiary of being seen as trustworthy because of his social standing as well.

The standing of women in Alabama in this time period also presented a barrier. The most famous illustration of this from Alabama came from 1961 when Alabama First Lady Lurleen Wallace was diagnosed with uterine cancer. As was standard practice at the time, the doctor told only her husband, Governor George Wallace, who then insisted that the diagnosis be kept from his wife. First Lady Wallace did not find out that she had cancer until 1965. Wallace would later die from this cancer during her own term as governor, which she was serving as a surrogate for her term-limited husband.

If the First Lady of Alabama was seen as so lowly that a cancer diagnosis was hidden from her, what hope would a young girl in a small town have of successfully seeking justice against a respected local attorney?  indeed, against the local district attorney/prosecuting attorney?

Another barrier is the lack of general knowledge of how to avail oneself to the protections of the legal system. In 1969, the Duke University Law Review conducted a study on the legal issues of the rural poor. Their focus was an unnamed county in eastern North Carolina. What they found was that a very small percentage of people sought legal action when wronged by either the government or another private party. The study also found that many of them were unaware that they could even do so.

The idea that Roy Moore would have been prosecuted for his actions in 1970s Alabama is laughable at best.  Moore was insulated by a culture that knew of his actions but did not take action to stop them.  He was also enabled by parents who felt that dating Moore was advantageous for their daughters, regardless of the implications of the age difference. In a small city going through economic turmoil, Moore was seen as a shining light, proof that you could escape your circumstances and make something of yourself. The notion that the credibility of the accusers is impeached by their "failure" to come forward 40 years ago is intellectually dishonest.

While Moore's actions are egregious and--we would hope--atypical of any community, they do point to the vulnerability of people who are facing injustices and have nowhere to turn. As the Duke study notes, the issue of justice in rural communities has long been hampered by a lack of resources and knowledge of the legal system. While many communities have access to civil legal aid programs that can help people, particularly victims of domestic violence, seek protective orders and other remedies against abusers, many of those programs are increasingly facing cuts on the state and federal level. In fact, President Donald Trump's proposed budget from earlier this year called for the elimination of the LSC, which provides grants to legal aid programs.

Before asking why these women did not come forward 40 years ago, perhaps we should examine the barriers that made doing so effectively impossible.

Another post about Roy Moore and rurality is here.  Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A run down of rural angles and issues in last week's election

In These Times: Rural America edition published its recap of last week's elections today, including this description of Wilmont Collins' election to the mayoral seat in Helena, Montana, population 28,1900.  Collins arrived in Montana as a refugee from Libera 23 years ago, with his wife, who had been a high school exchange student in the state capitol.  In These Times had this to say about Collins' platform:
His mayoral platform included addressing teen and veteran homelessness in Helena, ensuring access to clean water and pushing a return to community policing.
The story also discusses the Medicaid expansion win in Maine, as well as wins for "down ticket" progressives in a number of states, including Minnesota and Pennsylvania.   

Saturday, November 11, 2017

On Roy Moore and rural (and suburban) Alabama women

One of several stories the New York Times ran today about the Roy Moore scandal made references to urban and suburban women perhaps being fed up with the Senate candidate, his scandals and how much money he's cost the state because of them.  Here's an excerpt:
But like many in urban and suburban Alabama, the two women viewed the allegations reported by The Washington Post that Mr. Moore had made sexual overtures to teenagers decades ago not so much as a discrete scandal. Rather, it felt to them like the latest episode in a tawdry political sideshow with seemingly endless chapters
Journalist Richard Fausset quotes one such suburban woman, Sallie Gunter, a freelance court reporter who is 61: 
We’ve spent millions in Alabama on Roy Moore’s antics.  Millions that could have been spent on our kids and schools. I’m just fed up.  He needs to find something to do for people who adore him.
Gunter, who lives in an "upper-middle-class suburb" of Birmingham (which, Fausset describes as the home of moderates/swing voters) is further quoted: 
He’s just embarrassing
So, if Gunter represents such suburban swing voters, what might rural women do? Well, Fausset adds this:
Census statistics show that Alabama’s voting age population is, on balance, whiter, poorer and less educated than the nation’s. Like many other Republican candidates in statewide elections in the South, Mr. Moore draws much of his political strength from rural areas, which still have enormous clout.
Fausset did interview at least one female rural resident for the story:
Then again, Ms. [Gwen] Williams, who lives in rural Chilton County south of Birmingham, had never been a Roy Moore fan. She said she would “absolutely” be voting for Mr. Jones, but she was not so sure about her rural neighbors. “I’ve lived here all my life, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in my fellow voters making that shift,” she said. And at this point, she had no idea whether Mr. Moore could pull out a win. “It depends where the story goes,” she said. “This is the Bible Belt, and a 14-year-old is a 14-year-old is a 14-year-old.”
William is 63 years old, and she expressly labeled what Moore is accused of doing as "statutory rape" ... "even in Alabama."  Chilton County's population is 43,643.  

More on disappearing maternity care in rural America

This op-ed on the subject, by Katy B. Kozhimannil of the University of Minnesota (Rural Health Research Center) and Austin Frakt of the Boston University School of Public Health, was published a few days ago in the Washington Post, and re-printed yesterday in the Duluth News Tribune.  Here's an excerpt:
Life in rural America can be tough, with challenges starting right from birth. Increasingly, rural women lack access to maternity services, jeopardizing their health and that of their newborns at a time when U.S. maternal mortality is rising
Giving birth is hard enough, but racing 100 miles to the nearest hospital down winding country roads is a particularly harrowing way to experience labor. Evidence confirms what common sense suggests: Drive time affects outcomes. A Canadian study shows that the babies of mothers who travel more than an hour to give birth are more likely to require intensive care or to die within their first year of life.
Other posts on the topic are here, here, here, here and here.  Related media coverage is here, herehere, here, and here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

On guns and church in rural Texas

I've been slow in saying anything here on the blog about the shooting last Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, population 600.  But this interview with "Mike the Gun Guy" (Mike Weisser) on WBUR Boston provided irresistible fodder.  Mike had this to say about the prospects of an armed congregant being able to stop a gunman--and on the likely presence of guns at the church that morning:
First of all, the idea that in a small-town Baptist Church in rural Texas, that there weren't people in the church with guns, is absurd. And why nobody jumped up with a gun is because people aren't trained to do that. And if you're sitting in a church and you're praying and, you know, it's a moment of quiet and solitude and everything else, even if you've got a gun, and somebody comes in, opens the front door and starts blasting away, you're going to do what everybody does: You're going to hit the floor. The idea that the average citizen, even if he's had a little bit of — I don't want to call it training, just experience in using a gun, because it's not training — you don't get trained by just a little time at the range and having some guy tell you, 'OK, you know, point the gun here. Bang, bang, bang.' That's not training.
Lots of media accounts have described Sutherland Springs as "rural," and it is, of a sort.  I would say, more precisely, that it is an exurb, just 20 miles from downtown San Antonio.  The reason the assailant targeted this church:  his mother-in-law attended it, though she was not there on the morning of the shooting.

To recount the basics on this enormous and shocking tragedy, a 26-year-old man from New Braunfels, Texas (also in the greater San Antonio metropolitan area) who had been discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct stormed the church on Sunday, November 5, with a semi-automatic weapon.  He killed 26 people who ranged in age from infant to elderly, 24 of them inside the church.  The man had a history of domestic abuse, including having fractured the skull of his infant stepson several years ago when he was in the U.S. Air Force.  He was court martialed for that and for abuse of his wife.  He served 12 months on those charges, part of the time in a psychiatric hospital from which he escaped at one point.  If the Air Force had reported his conviction for domestic abuse to the salient database, the man would not have been able to buy a gun.  More on what we know about the shooter's mental state is here, including this quote from a former Air Force colleague, staff sergeant Jessika Edwards, who worked with the shooter near the end of his military career, in 2011:
“He was a dude on the edge,” Ms. Edwards added, noting that he would appear at informal squadron social functions in all black and a black trench coat. “This is not just in hindsight. He scared me at the time.”

Even after he left the military, he contacted her on Facebook with disturbing posts about his obsession with Dylann S. Roof, the Charleston mass murderer, and his target practices using dogs ordered online.

Ms. Edwards said the military had tried counseling and tough love, but nothing seemed to work. When punished for poor performance, Mr. Kelley would cry, scream and shake with rage, vowing to kill his superiors, she recalled. His temper was so unsettling that she warned others in the squadron to go easy on him or he was likely to come back and “shoot up the place.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On Ralph Northam's win and rural Virginia

Ralph Northam has been declared the winner of the Virginia gubernatorial race, and the New York Times coverage of that victory includes this regarding Northam's rural origins: 
A native of Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore who bears a Tidewater accent that reveals his rural roots, Mr. Northam, 58, was a perhaps an unlikely vessel for the resistance-era Democratic Party. But the left overlooked the two votes he cast for George W. Bush before he entered politics and his otherwise sterling resume — he is a pediatric neurologist and Gulf War veteran — proved far more appealing to the state’s broad middle than Mr. Gillespie’s background as a corporate lobbyist.
The playing up of rural-urban difference is interesting--and perhaps something that would not have happened before the Election of 2016 made us more acutely aware of this divide (or, what I tend to argue, is really a continuum). 

Here's a story from last week's Washington Post that might have predicted how Virginia counties would vote, based on economic recovery (or relative lack thereof) from the recession of 2008. I see that Northam's home region includes a number of counties that went for him, in spite of their weaker economic recovery. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lessons from history: New England and the Industrial Revolution


An undated picture of Monadnock Mills in Claremont, New Hampshire. From WikiMedia Commons.

Hi everyone! The post below is a partial repost of a post that I made during my time writing Lone Pine Policy for the Bangor Daily News. Since the post is now offline, I wanted to share it again with some alterations.

* * * 


In an age restless and mobile, with family traditions less strong, and transportation exceedingly cheap and inviting, it is hardly strange that so many of the young people are eager to leave the country which they pronounce dead-as it literally is to them-for the lively town or city.” - Ernest R. Groves, "Psychic Causes of Rural Migration", American Journal Of Sociology, March 1916

To begin to understand the current problems facing rural America, it might be helpful to look to the past and the major economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. At the turn of the 19th century, the vast majority of New Englanders lived in small towns and mostly farmed to provide for themselves and their families. Because of this, most farmers were generalists. As the century wore on however, a great change started to occur. The industrial revolution started to take hold in the Northeastern United States and people began to migrate towards urban areas in search of economic opportunity.

According to a 1903 study published by the American Statistical Association, New England’s population increased during their period, in raw numbers, but the rural population actually declined. In 1912, Alexander Cance of the Massachusetts Agriculture College (present-day University of Massachusetts – Amherst) observed in his writing, “The Decline of Rural Population of New England” that many predominantly agricultural towns in Western Massachusetts had just one third the population that they had at their peak. The migration out of rural communities created a great social upheaval that also dramatically altered the economic landscape.

What will follow is a cursory look at the conditions of rural New England during the Industrial Revolution. As you read this however, I want you to ask yourself two questions: How did New England small towns retain their economic relevance during the last major economic upheaval? Are there any lessons to be learned as we navigate towards a post-industrial economy?

The Creation of the Mill Town

Growth however was not limited to pre-existing urban areas such as Boston or Hartford. Mill owners, eager to take advantage of New England’s network of waterways, began to set up mills along rivers. In 1810, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company founded Manchester, New Hampshire, so named because it was thought that it could one day resemble Manchester, England in its manufacturing prowess. Manchester, then a sleepy village named Derryfield, was located along the banks of the Merrimack River, which provided easy access to Boston. Like Manchester, other mill towns popped up along the Merrimack. Lowell, Massachusetts would spring up in the 1820s as a planned company town by the Boston Manufacturing Company and named after its founder Francis Cabot Lowell.

This phenomena was not just limited to towns in southern New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts however. During the Industrial Revolution, Lewiston, Maine went from a sleepy Maine village to a bustling center of industry, largely due to its location along the Androscoggin River. At its peak in the mid 19th century, Lewiston was the wealthiest city in all of Maine. In New Hampshire, entrepreneurs took advantage of the water power generated by the Sugar River to grow Claremont into a bustling center of industry. Cities were also able to take advantage of their proximity to natural resources and access to power generated by water to grow and thrive. In Berlin, situated in New Hampshire’s North Country, they were able to harness, much as Lewiston had already, the power generated by the Androscoggin to run sawmills to process the lumber harvested from the vast woods of the North Country. All across New England, sleepy riverfront towns were transforming into centers of industry.

Agricultural Reorganization


How did rural New England markets, particularly those who were not along navigable waterways or rivers that could easily produce power, adjust to these developments? There was an increased focus on specialization as farmers started to specialize in crops that could be sold to the growing urban centers. Prior to the industrial revolution, there was not much of a nonagricultural population in New England and thus, not much of a market for a farmer to sell his crops to. However, the emergence of these urban centers provided a market for farmers. Due to increasing competition from farmers in the Midwest (due in part to part to the development of the canal and railroad systems), it was particularly advantageous to specialize in items where close distance was essential. For example, according to Percy Bidwell in his 1921 writing, “The Agricultural Revolution in New England,” the production of dairy subsequently became very important in rural New England. Bidwell speculated that the population of cows increased during this time as farmers moved to specialize to meet the growing demand for dairy product. In terms of raw numbers, between the 1870 and 1900 Censuses, New Hampshire increased its production of milk from 2 gallons to 29 gallons. Without the advantage of modern refrigeration, the fast transport of daily products was essential and New England farmers were wise to take advantage of that.

Rural areas also benefited greatly from supplying goods that were needed by the mills. While New England farmers were not able to compete with Southern farmers in cotton production, they were successful at producing the wool that could be used by the emerging mills. Vermont was particularly successful in this endeavor. Between 1824 and 1840, the sheep population of Vermont quadrupled. For Vermont farmers, raising sheep was more cost-effective than trying to grow corn or grain in the rocky soil. The growth in wool production also spurred growth in manufacturing in the state as mills opened there so they could take advantage of the proximity to wool. However, increased competition from the West and the lower wool prices brought about the collapse of Vermont's wool industry. Like their neighbors to the east, Vermont turned to dairy farming to reverse its economic fortunes and started supplying another essential good to the growing industrial centers.

Of course, the rural communities closest to the growing industrial centers saw the greatest benefit. According to the 1889 agricultural census, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island were 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively in value per farm acre. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont were 24th , 20th, and 16th respectively.

We Can’t Give Up


“These towns fell away early both in population and productiveness, and in but few stances have they been able to recover. A perusal of the vital statistics shows that the native stock is dying out. There is little or no immigration and the deaths exceed the births.” – Alexander Cance, “The Decline in Rural Population of New England,” Publications of the American Statistical Association, March 1912

As with any economic change, there will be simply be communities that are unable to quickly adapt to the rapid changes. Cance observed that many of the hillier towns, particularly in western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, were unable to adapt to a world where specialized, not subsistence, agriculture was the dominant means of survival. The hillier regions after all had poorer soil quality and harsher weather conditions. Some of these towns turned to granite mining, dairy, wool and other products that did not rely on the ability to grow and cultivate crops. The development of transportation infrastructure also presented an opportunity. Tourism suddenly became a viable economic sector.

As an example of a community that was able to take advantage of this, we can look to the Mount Washington region of New Hampshire. The late 19th century brought about a boom in hotel building as the region became increasingly seen as a refuge for urban dwellers who wanted to escape the chaos of the city. The same patterns were seen along the Maine coast and in the Vermont mountains. Some of the more well-heeled urbanites even began to buy former homesteads to use as summer homes. Resort towns began to spring up around rural New England as people flocked to its picturesque beauty.

The rise in winter sports also provided a new source of income for many of the hillier communities in New England. As the 20th century wore on, ski resorts began popping up. The development of these resorts proved to be an economic boon for the communities that housed them. As with the development of general tourism, the growing popularity of winter sports did not just benefit the industries that directly supported it, it also greatly benefited merchants and others who were able to start businesses that supported the growing winter sports sector.

While these developments did little to nothing to reserve population decline, they provided a means of survival for the people who wanted to remain in rural communities and provided opportunities for investment for people who wished to bring in capital.

The Lesson
New England rural communities increasingly embraced the idea of specialization, the legacy of which is apparent today. In New Hampshire and Vermont, the landscape is dotted with towns that specialize in dairy production and in Maine, we see towns that specialized in potato farming, logging and fishing. The lesson is that modern day rural communities should look to their predecessors and not be afraid to change in order to meet the demands of the modern world.

We can also look to New England for yet another lesson. Claremont, Berlin, Lewiston, and to a lesser extent Lowell all continue to bear the scars of the effects of leaders not planning ahead for a post-industrial economy. These areas have higher than average poverty, abandoned buildings, and high rates of unemployment. Tomorrow, voters in Lewiston and Auburn, Maine will even be considering a merger. What were once bustling centers of industry are now shells of what they once were. This lesson, of course, is not just limited to New England. You can find former mill towns in the Carolinas, former factory towns in Michigan and the Rust Belt, and former mining towns in Appalachia where leaders thought that the boom times would last forever and that planning ahead would be a waste of time and effort.

Just as we saw in the 19th century, rural America is undergoing a great economic shift. Manufacturing is no longer the dominant form of employment and agriculture (as a share of the economy) has been in decline for decades. Much like the Industrial Revolution, people are being drawn to cities in search of economic opportunity and as a result, rural communities are shrinking and getting older. Just like in the past, we have to figure out how to maintain an economic structure that allows rural America to thrive. Two centuries ago, rural citizens were unafraid to adapt to the changing economy, something that we would wise to remember today.

The 21st century provides us with exciting opportunities, much like those that were found in the 19th and 20th centuries. For example, the development of the internet provides an opportunity for white collar workers to work from wherever. We live in a world where a person in Augusta, Maine or Lebanon, New Hampshire can be on a videoconference and chat in real time with someone in New York, Boston or even London and Tokyo. The world has gotten a lot smaller and space is no longer a barrier to communication and the sharing of ideas. There are opportunities to attract businesses to rural America that may not have thrived there a generation ago. There are also opportunities to attract workers who may not have been able to live in rural America a generation ago.

The Challenge

The challenge ahead for rural America is figuring out how to adapt to the changing economy. Much as our predecessors did when we shifted from an agrarian to an industrial society, we must figure out how to make the adjustments necessary to maintain economic relevance. We are currently experiencing a transition away from an industrial economy and our ability to take advantage of the opportunities ahead will determine our role in the post-industrial economy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

On the more rural areas of Northern California hit by the deadly fires in October

A few stories this past weekend in major California newspapers have focused on the consequences of the early October wildfires in Mendocino County, as opposed to more populous Napa and Sonoma counties.  The Los Angeles Times reported under the headline, "Wildfires devastate California pot farmers, who must rebuild without banks or insurance," and the San Francisco Chronicle story was headlined "Deadly Mendocino County Fire under the radar of Wine Country devastation."   This lede from the Chronicle story sums up the rural v. urban angle (or at least degrees of rural ....) between these regions/counties:
Like thousands of other North Bay fire victims, the traumatized residents of the bucolic Redwood Valley are sifting through rubble, negotiating with insurance agents and struggling to figure out how they are going to rebuild their fire-scarred lives. 
The only difference is that the hellish inferno that rolled through their community two weeks ago went virtually unnoticed by a world mesmerized by the flaming disasters closer to San Francisco. 
The Redwood Valley Fire was not exactly ignored, but it was a side note during a historic week of calamity in Northern California — subordinate to the conflagrations that destroyed much of Santa Rosa and ripped through Wine Country towns in Napa and Sonoma counties. 
But the aftermath is no less horrible for the 1,759 farmers, vineyard keepers and pot entrepreneurs who live in this rural community between Ukiah and Willits — a place isolated enough for stagecoach robber Black Bart to use as a hideout and, about a century later, for Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple cult to set up shop before moving on to bigger things.
It's interesting that journalist Peter Fimrite refers to Mendocino County as the "North Bay." I'd agree with that characterization for Napa and Sonoma, but not once you get as far north as Mendocino.  Nevertheless, his "per capita" point is well taken (by me, at least):
The fire that swept through the community early in the morning on Oct. 9 killed eight people, blackened 36,523 acres and destroyed 545 buildings, about a quarter of the homes there, fire officials said. It was at least as damaging, per capita, as the cataclysmic blazes to the south.
Fimrite quotes George Gonzaelz, the battalion chief for the Mendocino unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection:
It’s probably the largest modern disaster here in Mendocino County.  But nobody is paying attention.
And that, it seems, is par for the course when it comes to rural America.  I wrote a post making a similar point after the Butte and Valley fires (in Napa and Lake counties) two years ago.

Here's an excerpt from the LA Times story focused on the pot industry's losses.
Because the marijuana culture of Northern California has survived in secrecy for the last 50 years, and mostly still does, no one can know the exact loss to the industry. 
The threat of losing a year’s crop and cash reserves pushes many growers to take risks a grape farmer neighbor might not. 
When the fires broke, farmers thrashed over four-wheel-drive roads with horse trailers full of hastily cut marijuana. Some defied evacuation orders to save the crops. 
Others left, and lost everything.
Lots of posts about California's pot industry--with a focus on Mendocino, Humboldt, and Lake counties (the so-called Emerald Triangle) can be found in this blog. 

Postscript:  "As deadly fires burned Redwood Valley, delays, confusion about evacuation orders" in the Los Angeles Times on November 5.  An excerpt follows: 
But a Times review of police and fire dispatch calls that morning describe a chaotic scene in which officials debated when to send evacuation orders. The recordings provide an overview of communications that night as the fire swept through the valley but do not provide a full sense of what firefighters and law enforcement were doing on the ground. The county so far has declined to provide additional records. 
The dispatches and interviews show the county issued an evacuation order in Redwood Valley more than an hour after the fire was first reported there. During that time, several Redwood Valley residents phoned 911 dispatchers to say they were trapped by fire.

Firefighters struggled with a lack of manpower and equipment in the rural county, which relies heavily on small fire departments and volunteers. State and local engines, including the Redwood Valley volunteer fire department, were sent to battle fires that had started earlier in the night in the adjacent Potter Valley.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

On Trump's declaration of a public health emergency over opioids--and rural angles on same

I heard several radio stories today on Trump's public health emergency declaration, stories that mentioned particular challenges associated with the crisis in rural America.  Several mentioned the shortage of physicians there, and the first report I heard on NPR this morning shortly after Trump's announcement mentioned a loosening of the restrictions on telemedicine to respond to this fact.  But searching around the Internet, I can now find very little "in writing" on these issues.  Here's a short excerpt from the New York Times coverage, which gets to rural in the eighth paragraph:
The designation of a public health crisis, formally made by Eric D. Hargan, the acting health secretary, would allow for some grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse, permit the hiring of specialists to tackle the crisis, and expand the use of telemedicine services to treat people in rural areas ravaged by opioid use, where doctors are often in short supply.
I also found this from In These Times, which reports regularly on rural issues:
CDC reports rising rates of drug overdose deaths in rural areas 
Rates of drug overdose deaths are rising in nonmetropolitan (rural) areas, surpassing rates in metropolitan (urban) areas, according to a new report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, resulting in approximately 52,000 deaths in 2015. This report analyzed trends in illicit drug use and disorders from 2003-2014 and drug overdose deaths from 1999-2015 in urban and rural areas. In 1999, drug overdose death rates for urban areas were higher than in rural areas (6.4 per 100,000 population versus 4.0 per 100,000). The rates converged in 2004, and in 2006 the rural rate began trending higher than the urban rate. 
In 2015, the most recent year in this analysis, the rural rate of 17.0 per 100,000 remained slightly higher than the urban rate of 16.2 per 100,000. 
Urban and rural areas experienced significant increases in the percentage of people reporting past-month illicit drug use. … The new findings also show an increase in overdose deaths between 1999 and 2015 among urban and rural residents. This increase was consistent across sex, race, and intent (unintentional, suicide, homicide or undetermined).
That story also quotes CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD: 
The drug overdose death rate in rural areas is higher than in urban areas.  We need to understand why this is happening so that our work with states and communities can help stop illicit drug use and overdose deaths in America.
I'm looking forward, in the coming days, to more analysis of rural issues/rural health care delivery.  Meanwhile, here is part of the New York Times editorial criticizing Trump for not doing more to counter the opioid crisis:
He declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, which sounds urgent but doesn’t free any significant new money to fight it. In doing so, he ignored the plea of his own opioids commission to declare a full-on national emergency, which would immediately free billions of dollars for emergency response, addiction treatment and efforts to stop the flow of illegal opioids into the country — a comprehensive approach that is so far missing.
Here is the New York Times news coverage of Trump's announcement and here is NPR's.  Here's more coverage from the Times on the crisis, an op-ed from late September, and this feature mapping the crisis and its acceleration in recent years.