Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Children in rural places of China and foreign adoptions

Last week,I watched a documentary film named China’s Lost Girls.The documentary was filmed in the year 2005,it was a special year in the adoption history of China.In this peak year, the number of Chinese children adopted by American families reached over 7900, meaning one out of every three adoptee was from China.

The film shot many American couples who came to china to adopt Chinese children.Obviously, Many parents saw China as the cleanest of international adoption choices. Its population-control policy, which limited many families to one child, drove couples to abandon subsequent children or to give up daughters in hopes of bearing sons to inherit their property and take care of them in old age. China had what adoptive parents in America wanted: a supply of healthy children in need of families.

But after a news reported in 2011 that at least 16 children who were seized by family planning officials and then sent them to orphanages where the children adopted by foreign  families between 1999 and late 2006 in Longhui County, an impoverished rural area in Hunan, a southern Chinese province.The scandal swept through the families who have adopted children from China.For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents?Many reports exposed the dark side of overseas adoption after that,children in rural places are not only the target of illegal foreign adoptions,kidnapping but also suffering from sexual assault and harassment.

The numbers of adoptions from China declined to 2306 in the year of 2013.The rising standard of living, sex-selective abortion, also,the loose of one child policy in most rural places,means that fewer families abandoned healthy babies now.But the main reason was restrictions about foreign adoptions by Chinese government have taken from the year 2006.The family should meet qualifications,such as:Net worth of at least $80,000.  Minimum household income of $30,000, or $10,000 per person living in the home.Length of time is 12-24 months for waiting child.The adoption process for of a Chinese child costs on average around $31,000.

The restrictions above might prevent foreign adoptions from becoming trafficking crime.But the most dangerous salutation for those children in rural areas is the lack of protects and guidance from their parents.Especially the so called “left-behind kids”.In the case of Hunan,most of the 16 children were stayed in the village with old grandparents or relatives while their parents were working in cities.Because of the registered household system and the high daily expenses, children couldn’t  went to the schools in cities.They lived in the villages with their grandparents.Their grandparents were farmers who didn’t educated.When they out for farming,children often stay at home alone.Around 30 million children under 18 have no parent at home and two million fend for themselves with no adult guardian.These families only reunite a few days each year for the most part during Spring Festival.

China has been recruiting more social workers to provide counseling for the left behind kids in rural areas, and government spending on social services rose an average of 24% from 2008 to 2012, according to 2013 figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).And from early this year the government loose the household restricted in education and established schools for the children of migrant.More and more migrant workers choose to bring their children together with them.

Changes in Iowa's population and economy in the midst of a Senate race

The New York Times published an article yesterday entitled "With Farms Fading and Urban Might Rising, Power Shifts in Iowa." The article discusses how rural life in Iowa is changing as the state's youth and young adults are moving in hordes to bigger cities such as Des Moines. Indeed, between 2000 and 2013, Iowa's urban population grew by 13.3 percent, while the population in non-urban areas fell by 3.6 percent. This population gap between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas in Iowa is larger than other states in the Midwest.

Moreover, as the title of the New York Times article suggests, Iowa's economy is largely changing. For example, Des Moines is now home to around 20 startup technology companies that have set up shop across a few blocks of Sixth Avenue in the city's downtown area. This particular stretch of Sixth Avenue is now known as "Silicon Sixth," and recently hosted one of four Startup Weekends in Iowa, where businesspeople and technology experts are invited to participate in a conference on business building. Even as Des Moines becomes increasingly "happening," as one young Iowan stated, Iowa's rural areas are struggling to adjust to population losses. For example, Pocahontas is a small town in north-eastern Iowa with a population of 1,757, down from 1,956 in 2000 and 2,144 in 1990. Consistent with this steady decrease in overall population, Pocahontas's public school enrollment has decreased by 32 percent in the last ten years, forcing schools and sports teams to consolidate.

However, despite the population shift from rural to urban areas and the changing nature of Iowa's economy, the current political climate suggests that Iowans still hold rural values dear. One of Iowa's current United States Senators announced in January that he would not be running for re-election, leading to a Senate race that has come down to Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. Ernst has largely appealed to Iowa's conservative base with ads that align with conservative values and a rural way of life. For example, one of her ads states:
I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.
Joni Ernst. Mother. Soldier. Conservative.
Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.
Meanwhile, Braley, who has been advocating a more urban-focused agenda, appears to have won the disfavor of much of Iowa's rural population by criticizing Iowa's current Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley, as a "farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." Indeed, a poll in September demonstrated that Ernst established a 4-to-1 advantage over Braley among the rural voting population. However, an October poll shows that, among Iowa's overall voting population, Ernst leads Braley by only one percentage point.

Of course, this Senate race is taking place against the backdrop of Iowa's shifting population and changing economic climate. With the significant migration of rural Iowans to metropolitan areas of the state, and the increasingly modern and technological character of cities like Des Moines, it will be interesting to see how the Senate race plays out. The state's current political climate appears to highlight Iowa's rural-urban divide. Will the swing-state elect a more conservative candidate that appeals to rural values, or is Braley's urban-friendly agenda more likely to win out in light of the changes in Iowa's population and economy?

Monday, October 20, 2014

What is Davis, California?

I’ve often been confronted with this question. I mean, I often ask myself this question. What is the city of Davis? Can we correctly classify Davis as rural or urban? Better yet, is Davis suburban or is it simply a rural town?

Obviously, for this post, I present myself with the task of answering this question. Before I answer it, I have to make clear that my thoughts on the matter will probably be colored by the modes of thinking intrinsic to my urban upbringing. Of course, I hope to keep this ostensible bias from creeping into this post.

To start, I will say that I consider Davis to be rural, at least relative to my place of origin, Los Angeles. However, I believe that Davis is less rural than, say, a town of 5,000 in Idaho. In this regard, Davis is rural lite, to use a humorous phrase.

Towards the beginning of this semester, we explored potential definitions of rurality proffered by various scholars. Yet, it seems that we were unable to agree upon the criteria that aptly define rurality. As I see it, rurality can be properly defined by taking into account cultural (which entails the political), economic, and demographic factors.

With that in mind, I believe that a conservative cultural normativity, an extractive economy, and a homogenous population characterize a rural area.

By saying that rural areas possess a conservative cultural normativity, I mean that rural areas are typified by a certain social inertia, i.e. increasingly archaic forms of social relations. The phrase “extractive economy” means an economy characterized entirely by the extricating of raw materials from the earth (e.g. coal mining and farming). On the other hand, urban areas possess economies based entirely upon the conversion of these raw materials into manufactured commodities. By stating that rural areas are demographically homogenous, I mean that they are largely white.

Davis seems to fit these criteria. However, there is certainly more to say in that regard. Davis is unique in that it contains a university, namely UC Davis. With that come certain cultural and economic traits foreign to rurality.

UC Davis maintains a constant influx of thousands of students from all over the country and, for that matter, all over the world. It is important to note, however, that the school largely supplies skilled labor and research for the agricultural industry, which seems to indicate the school is integrated within northern California’s rural (extractive) economy as opposed to simply being a superimposed foreign entity.

I believe that UC Davis’s presence has also produced a degree of anomalous—anomalous within rural America, that is—cultural and political liberalism. Indeed, Davis seems to be famous for its cultural and political eccentricities.

These eccentricities make wonder if Davis is really just a gentrified island within northern California rurality. Davis, a largely middle class community, certainly has its share of luxury, and it seems to share many traits with a typical southern California suburb. Indeed, Davis could be classified as a suburb of Sacramento. However, it is arguable that Sacramento is a semi-urban island surrounded by agricultural terrain.

In the final analysis, I would categorize Davis as a semi-gentrified rural suburb. Many of its inhabitants enjoy the comfort of middle-class conveniences. However, this avant-garde mode of living is sandwiched within a landmass of seemingly endless farmland. As a result, from an urban outsiders perspective, Davis is lite on the amenities of gentrification and lite on the rurality. It really is an odd mixture of both, which makes for an endlessly entertaining spectacle. At times, the juxtaposition of immensely disparate personalities borders the absurd.

The prison industry and rural development

It seems that the theme for many of the documentaries about rural life involve efforts by the residents to boost the economy in rural areas. In particular, the documentary “Prison Town, USA” tells the story of the rural town of Susanville that attempts to revive its economy and increase job opportunities by building a prison. Normally, a prison is the last thing someone would want in their neighborhood, but as the story of Susanville demonstrates this has changed in many rural towns which are now welcoming prisons with open arms in an effort to address persistent poverty. In the 1980s, as a skyrocketing prison population created a demand for prison expansion and, as a result, prison hosting emerged as a way to stimulate economic growth. Prisons seemed to offer a practical way to address the persistent poverty and out-migration of rural towns.

Calvin Beale, a demographer from the United States Department of Agriculture, has comprehensively documented the rise in rural prison siting. Since 1980, approximately 350 rural counties have sited prisons. From 1992 to 1994 alone 83 prisons were opened in nonmetropolitan counties, constituting sixty percent of new prison construction. And with an average of 35 jobs being created for every 100 inmates being housed, and state prison populations increasing by an annual average of 8.1% from 1985 to 1995, local officials began to consider prisons as an economic development tool.

Prison officials often go to great lengths to convince rural communities of the economic benefits of prisons. In fact, it is common for local officials to sponsor town meetings where prison officials and their supporters are invited to extol the benefits of prisons to communities. Because of these claims, the competition for prison projects has become fierce and political. In order to be considered competitive rural counties give up a lot to gain what they hope will be more: offering financial assistance and concessions such as donated land, upgraded sewer and water systems, housing subsidies, and, in the case of private prisons, property and other tax abatements.

However, a recent report has found that prisons generally appear to have a negligible, or perhaps negative, impact on economic development in rural communities. As this report indicates, many rural stakeholders overlook the fact that in addition to affecting employment and income patterns, the location of a prison in a rural community is likely to affect population distribution, economic infrastructure and quality of life in that community.

“Prison Town, USA” highlighted yet another problem with prison development, namely that often it is difficult to guarantee that the prison will actually yield the promised benefits. The residents of Susanville saw began a campaign to prevent prisons to cancel their contracts with Morning Glory Dairy specifically, and presumably other local businesses. Morning Glory in particular relied on this account for more than a quarter of its business. Unfortunately, the people of Susanville seem to have little power against the vast economic and political power of the corrections industry.

Additionally, as this documentary depicts, the correctional facilities introduce new divisions in an otherwise tight-knit community. These divisions are primarily between those who work for the prisons and those who don't, and between locals and prisoners' family members. The film highlights the struggles of husband and wife, Lonnie and Jen, who are especially affected by this divide. Lonnie spent sixteen months in prison for stealing food worth no more than $40 to feed his family, something that not only seems excessive but expensive for taxpayers. Lonnie and Jen’s story calls into question not only the actual benefits of prison industries to a small community, but the underpinnings of the prison boom itself and the human costs of the nation's criminal justice policies.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why are conservatives so angry over immigration?

The United States faced a humanitarian crisis this past summer. There was a sudden increase in the number of immigrants from Central America attempting to cross into the United States. Many of these individuals were women and children. Many, if not all, did not possess immigration documentation to allow them to enter the United States.
Because of this unexpected surge in immigrants attempting to cross the border without proper documentation, federal authorities decided to take them to processing centers. Some of these centers in Texas did not have enough room, so the government decided to take the immigrants to a U.S. Customs facility in Murrieta, Calif. 
The buses that carried about 140 immigrants failed to reach their destination because of protestors who physically blocked roads, forcing buses to go elsewhere.
Protest is patriotic. It’s our constitutional right to speak up and out. We should speak up when we believe the government is doing something wrong.
But when you have folks screaming “Go back home!” and chanting “U-S-A!” at the top of their lungs while fiercely waving American flags, it just looks racist. It’s awful. It’s terrifying. You can hear so much anger and arrogance in their voices that it seems impossible to have a civilized dialogue with members of their group and address their concerns. I’m not an illegal immigrant, and I already feel unwelcome when I see and hear these protestors. 
These residents were upset because they perceived that federal authorities were “dumping” these children and women in their community. That’s an understandable concern, but it seriously mischaracterizes what’s actually happening. No one is being “dumped” in anyone’s neighborhoods. The border patrol station that was supposed to house these immigrants is located on 25774 Madison Avenue, Murrietta, Calif. Look this up on Google Maps, and take a look at the satellite view. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by undeveloped land and some industrial structures. Most of the residents live away from this facility, which is blocked off by Interstate 15. These immigrants are not going to be wandering through anyone's neighborhoods--they are secure behind the bars of a federal law enforcement facility. 
So what do we do about illegal immigration? The United States has 11 million immigrants who lack proper immigration documentation. A couple months before this incident, the Orange County Register, a newspaper serving a pretty conservative county, published an opinion piece that took a realistic and constructive approach to this issue. The author made logical arguments that made sense. Nevertheless, the comments erupted with remarks that resembled those of the protestors in Murietta.
One commenter said,
LOVE to read the Register's idiot readers blow up about this subject again and again. Wake up and smell the tacos, loser
Another commenter said,
Why are US Citizens who are worse off than the Illegals being so generous with support for Illegals and Immigration Reform? BECAUSE THEY AIN'T PAYING FOR IT!!! THEIR KIDS AND GRANDKIDS WILL PAY INTEREST ON THAT BORROWED MONEY ALL THEIR LIVES!!
Finally, another commenter said,
YEAH, let's get real - ENFORCE OUR LAWS - CLOSE OUR BORDERS - SEND EVERY ILLEGAL HOME - they broke our laws and have no right to be in our sovereign country – . . .
The answer is for government to start SLAMMING THE HORRIBLE COUNTRIES THAT TREAT THEIR PEOPLE SO TERRIBLY THEY HAVE TO LEAVE - yes, THOSE leftist socialist rotten countries just like the one DemoRATS want to make here
So there you have it. Angry conservatives against immigrants without proper documentation.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Should Americans turn to rural America for moral guidance?

I’m a fan of country music. It's music I grew up listening to, and it's music I, still, listen to.

After a long day of class, I, usually, unwind by listening to country music on Pandora Internet Radio, during my journey home from campus. Recently, as I trekked home, a Toby Keith song entitled “Beer for My Horses” found its way into my headphones.

Note that—though I am a country music fan—I am not a Toby Keith fan. Still, despite my dislike of Toby Keith, I decided to patiently listen to this particular song of his.

The song was catchy and very much entertaining. However, the message it promulgated did not sit well with me.

The message was one I was one of familiarity. It was a message I had heard in other country music songs and a message I had encountered, generally, in popular culture. 

Keith's song relays the message that the moral fabric of society is decaying and that the hope for restoration of that moral fabric rests in the hands of rural Americans, who never waiver in the maintenance of virtue and who are the beacon of morality and justice for all America.

There is no doubt that the ideal of the yeoman farmer propagated by President Thomas Jefferson is one fundamental to the core of American idealism. This is an ideal found in everything from popular American movies to American political campaign commercials. Rural America is constantly portrayed—as it is in Keith’s song—as being the backbone of all that is good and all that is America.

Though I do believe that this romanticized ideal of rural America does and will always represent a part of America’s core, I am not persuaded that America should turn entirely to its wheat fields and farm towns for moral guidance. I say this because I do not believe that rural America is completely void of all imperfects. To prove this point, I will provide some revealing information of the states with the highest porn subscription rates in the country.

A Harvard University professor by the name of Benjamin Edelman published a study in 2009 examining who buys online adult entertainment. His study exposed that eight of the ten states with the highest percentage of porn subscriptions were rural states (states with a majority of nonmetropolitan counties).

Here is the list of states with the highest number of porn subscriptions per 1,000 broadband users:

1. Utah: 5.47

2. Alaska: 5.03

3. Mississippi: 4.30

4. Hawaii: 3.61

5. Oklahoma: 3.21

6. Arkansas: 3.12

7. North Dakota: 3.05

8. Louisiana: 3.01

9. Florida: 3.01

10. West Virginia: 2.94

(*Rural states are bolded.)

Obviously, this study is not enough to prove that there is nothing of virtue or value worth adopting from rural America. However, it is enough evidence to deflate a bit of the romanticism in which Americans perceive rural America, and enough to caution Americans from accepting unchallenged rural customs and ideals.

Rural communities as well as urban ones play a contributing role in the fabrication of America’s morality and core identity. But the possibility exists that some of America’s most romanticized ideals of rural America are spoiled and even anachronistic.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poverty, education and the future of the ‘Two-Track System’ in rural China

China is a global superpower. The nation is poised to pass United States as the world’s leading economic power as early as this year. However, China's rural population has not kept pace with this growth. Disparity between rural and urban Chinese increases exponentially as the country continues to thrive fiscally.

The Chinese government defines its rural poor as those people who earn a net income of ¥2,300 per year. Converted to the United States dollar, 2,300 Chinese yuan equates to about $375 per year: slightly above $1 a day.  China has made many efforts to reduce poverty in rural China since the late 1970s with the adoption of broad rural economic reforms; however, on the whole these reforms seem to be fruitless.

“Poverty is still a salient problem in China,” stated deputy director of the State Council Poverty Alleviation Office, Zheng Wenkai. “About 200 million Chinese, or 15% of the country’s population, would be considered poor by international poverty measures, set at $1.25 a day.” Zheng Wenkai continued, acknowledging that these rural poor “not only live on low incomes, but also face [the] difficulties of getting education, electricity, medical care, bank loans, and so on.”
He also noted that these people are subject to inadequate infrastructure and are more vulnerable to impacts of natural disasters. Zheng Wenkai did confirm that China plans to use ‘various methods’ of poverty relief this year. China had celebrated that there has been a decrease in rural poverty over the last 40 years. But, are those numbers reflecting an actual reduction in poverty? Or are they simply the product of a misconstrued causation vs. correlation analysis? My opinion is that it could be a little both, as China has not been immune to the rural- to-urban migration phenomenon that is occurring globally.

The Chinese rural-urban migration has likely been instrumental in reducing the country’s poverty rates. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[a]bout 53.7% of China’s population lived in urban areas by the end of last year, up from 40.5% a decade earlier,”
[as reported by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.] As half of the population lives in rural China, and a large portion of that community is economically stressed, China must investigate real solutions (that is, outside of migration to urban areas) for its impoverished rural population. One solution that China presents is education reform.

China has a unique education system known as the ‘Two-Track System’. The system developed from shortages in educational resources. The Two-Track System was designed so that rural areas could be supported by local communities and county government, while urban schools were supported by the central government. This led to a separation in the education system, which yielded unequal education opportunities and quality of education for rural student. To date, urban communities have modernized their education system and content with materials matching the evolving technology, growing economy, and globalization, where the rural schooling system is stagnant.

China has made educational reform attempts. In December 27, 2005, the government announced that China would spend 218 billion yuan (27.25 billion U.S. dollars) through 2010 to improve rural education. However, it seems that these efforts were somewhat frustrated. During the economic crisis, many migrant and rural children’s schools were actually closed. This displaced many rural students, forcing them to attend centralized education, travel great distances, or wait for another school to be made available to them.

China has vowed to reduce the number of rural people in poverty by 10 million this year, as it celebrates ‘China Poverty Alleviation Day’ this October.
For this to occur, I believe that funding to rural Chinese schools is paramount.

China was on the right track with the 2005 yuan pledge to rural schools. For reform to be successful long-term, China must make sure that it delivers primary education to rural China. For primary education and rural China to be successful, the nation needs to recognize that funding for education must expand beyond that of the local government. In addition to financial aid to the institutions, China could increase teacher salary in these areas, provide scholarships to student’s families, as well as provide for a form of rural affirmative action at the secondary and college level.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Procedural environmental justice in rural areas

After watching the documentary “GasLand” I became more curious about environmental justice issues in rural areas. Environmental justice is often framed as an urban issues. When I think environmental justice I tend to think about power plants, refineries and huge smokestacks in urban areas, without even thinking that it may be an issue in rural areas as well. This removal of rural areas from discussions of environmental justice might in part have to do with the common perception of rural areas as pristine, clean and filled with nature.

I wondered if this perception was partly because of the stereotype that rural residents are primarily engaged in and dependent on farming and other agricultural related occupations, however; this is not always the case. For example, in “North Country” the rural Minnesota town was depicted as being largely dependent on the local iron mine as a source of jobs and income. This is just one example of hazardous facilities and activities being cited in rural areas. Rural areas with a large amount of poverty and lack of jobs are likely the most vulnerable to this as they struggle with economic survival.

Another reason that rural environmental justice issues may be overlooked is because the residents in rural areas are more dispersed than in urban areas and may also be silenced by a lack of numbers. I wondered if corporations may be more likely to place their facilities or dump their wastes in rural areas due to the belief that rural areas have a smaller number of people who might feel the burden of these activities. This belief would make it easier, and maybe even more acceptable, to knowingly dispose of hazardous wastes and chemicals. This particular aspect of rurality and rural life differentiates its environmental justice experience with that of urban residents.

Environmentaljustice has two distinct components to it: distributive justice and procedural justice.  Distributive justice refers to the idea that environmental benefits and burdens should distributed fairly to all people. One the other hand, procedural justice requires the opportunity for “all people regardless of race, ethnicity, income, national origin or educational level” to have “meaningful involvement” in environmental decision-making. Although distributive justice may be just as lacking in an urban area just as much as it is in a rural area, the nature of much of rural life makes it especially vulnerable to a lack of procedural justice. Rural residents tend to be geographically far from centers of economic and political activity and, as a result, have less of an opportunity to be engaged in the political process and have a say in the construction of their environment.

“North Country” also shows that environmental justice for rural people may also have much to do with rights over their natural resources and the use of these natural resources. Both “Gasland” and “North Country” portray rural communities that have been and continue to be exploited for their natural resources, and residents that have no say in the use and quality of these resources. Unfortunately, without the meaningful inclusion of those who will be impacted by the outcomes of environmental decision-making, fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens is unlikely.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New documentary film explores the impact of itinerant workers in North Dakota oil boom

By now you have probably heard of the oil boom in North Dakota. A controversial new method of natural gas extraction has taken over and it’s called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for short. You can read about it here and here. The epicenter is Williston, North Dakota. Fracking operations in North Dakota have attracted thousands of men looking for work. These men are poor, desperate, and often live out of their cars.

The fracking boom in North Dakota has had a myriad of effects on the rural countryside. It has ushered in great economic prosperity. It has minted millionaires overnight. But it has also created lasting environmental and social problems like increased drug use, crime and prostitution. The rural area does not have the infrastructure to support the sudden surge in population. 

Opening this week is a film called The Overnighters. The film won the Special Jury Prize for Intuitive Filmmaking this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Here is the description by the film's distributor Drafthouse Films:

A modern-day Grapes of Wrath, award-winning documentary The Overnighters engages and dramatizes a set of universal societal and economic themes: the promise and limits of re-invention, redemption and compassion, as well as the tension between the moral imperative to “love thy neighbor” and the resistance that one small community feels when confronted by a surging river of desperate, job-seeking strangers.

Director Jesse Moss said “I went thinking I was going to make a film about oil extraction, and I’m suddenly making a film about faith and the Christian ethic and the struggles of a church to define for itself what it’s role in this community is, and what the role of the pastor in it is.” Moss filmed the documentary over a span of 16 months. He flew out to Williston and began to interview people in the community. One of those men was Pastor Jay Renike. Pastor Reinke had opened his church doors to the newcomers and gave them a place to sleep at night while they got settled into town. But not everyone in the community was on board with this plan and over the course of the story things go awry for Pastor Reinke.

The documentary touches on rural communities. Rural communities are close-knit where everyone knows everyone else’s business. People in rural communities also take care of their own. But does this generosity and kindness extend to strangers? How should a community respond to a situation like what is happening in Williston? What characteristics of rural community will shape Williston’s response? How will its response be different from that of an urban community if faced with a similar situation? These are all questions I will be asking when I finally get to see this documentary.

The film has been touring the country and playing at small film festivals. This week it opened to a very limited release. I will definitely be renting it once it is released on dvd.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Abuses in the meatpacking industry are worse in rural areas

Upton Sinclair’s 1905 novel “The Jungle” told the morbid story of immigrants in the meat packing industry in metropolitan, industrial cities.  The book decried the ills of industrialization – rampant health violations and horrific working conditions in food processing plants.  In the last half century, meatpacking plants have slowly migrated from urban cities to sparely populated towns in the South and Midwest.  The motivation, presumably, is to allow the firms to take advantage of the proximity to local livestock and thereby reduce transportation costs.  Yet suspicions of ulterior motives on the part of the meatpacking industry are not outlandish- firms benefit from the low prevailing wages in rural areas and the lack of enforcement to prevent immigrant employee abuse.  This blogpost outlines reasons why the horrors of the meatpacking industry are exacerbated when plants are located in rural areas.

To begin, the issue of market competition- typically, an agricultural processing facility in a rural town is the only major source of employment for the area.  A single chicken plant may be the only job source for miles around.  In a metropolitan city, there is a cooperative proliferation of jobs and workers are thus more empowered to demand better wages and working conditions because there are other employers to compete for the labor market.  This is not the case with meatpackers in rural towns.  The industry is heavily concentrated.  There are no rival meatpacking firms in general to compete and incentivize good employment standards.  This is particularly the case in rural areas, where there may not be rival employers period.   Where a firm is the only one on the block, it has the power to set substandard or even illegal working conditions. 
Next, consider the demographic that works for meatpacking firms- immigrants have traditionally supported the industry.  It seems that common sense would bind us in agreement that immigrants do not come to the US with the dream of sheering chicken flesh all day.  Immigrants end up working at meatpacking plants because their illegal status does not allow them access to higher-paying and more desirable positions.  They have usually fled countries where job opportunities and working conditions are even worse than in a United States food processing plant.  In short, immigrants are more likely to accept abuse and illegal wages.  Their base for comparison is low, and motivation to make a living extremely high. 

As mentioned, more than a hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair already told the tale of abuse of immigrant food processors in urban cities.  How does the rural location of the meatpacking industry make abuse of immigrants even more egregious now?  The tale of meatpacking and processing’s move into rural communities has a plot twist- the local citizen communities in which the facilities are locate often fear and resent the influx of immigrant workers.  If recent trends in the US census are any indication, illegal workers will continue to move to rural parts of the country.  The immigrants follow industries that want to take advantage, I argue, of the fact that white Americans in rural areas will turn a blind eye to the employment abuse of illegal workers.   

In a large city like Chicago, three hundred illegal workers at a plant might go unnoticed in the vast population pool.  In a rural area, immigrant workers attracted by a new plant could completely change the demographic of the town.  This fact is met with resistance and fear.  Common perceptions hold that immigrants are not warmly welcomed in rural America.  Sure, there are shining examples of communities that embrace arriving immigrants, but in general, illegal workers face disdain and disgust in small town American.  They are accused of taking local jobs, of taxing public benefit programs.  This is at the crux of why meatpacking’s move into rural America has exacerbated the horrors of the industry.  The immigrant workforce is subject to abuse at work and to a lack of community support to challenge illegal employment practices. 

Where are the lawyers, the agency enforcement officers, the community activists to decry the abuse of immigrants?  That’s just it- in rural communities, there are less advocates to argue for the legal rights of immigrants.  Upton Sinclair was able to unearth the injustices in 1905 because, at that time, the meat factories were located in the big cities.  It was literally right next door to him.  He was a talented journalist in a large city with access to a printing press.  In contrast, there are no large media outlets in rural areas, few passionate social justice advocates. 

Meatpacking plants know that they have a safe hiding place (ironically) right out in the wide open countryside of rural America.    

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hispanic immigration into small town America

On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division raided Agriprocessors, Inc. slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. This raid resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers, many who were of Hispanic origin. (See this post for more information about the raid). At that time, Postville’s population was around 2,200 people, which meant that a significant portion - likely 20% or more - of Postville's population was of Hispanic origin. I was very surprised that a rural town had such diversity. When I think of small, rural, Midwestern towns, I usually assume the population lacks diversity. This compelled me to wonder whether Postville's demographics are unique, or if Hispanic immigrant into rural areas is common.

Between 1980 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States increased 246% from 14.6 million to 50.5 million. In the 1980’s, growth of the Hispanic population was concentrated in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, and Miami. However, since the 1990’s, the Hispanic population’s growth has been rapid in non-metropolitan communities, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest. For example, in Grady County, Georgia, the Hispanic population almost doubled to 2,282 within a six year span from 2000 to 2006. In Ulysses, Kansas, a town with a population of approximately 6,000, is now half Hispanic. In Beardstown, Illinois, approximately one third of their 6,000 person population is Hispanic. In 1990, 99.3% of Beardstown’s population was born in the United States; by 2009, 17.3% of the population was foreign-born.
It may seem odd that immigrants would want to move to small towns that previously had minimal diversity. But the reason makes sense; in fact, it’s why many people would move to a foreign state and start over. Many Hispanics immigrated to rural areas for work, particularly to work in the food processing industry. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, numerous meat-processing plants were relocated to rural areas. These plants needed upwards of 2,500 workers, and immigrants were able to fill these low-skilled positions.
The reactions to immigration into rural communities have been mixed. One positive result is that immigration has offset the population decline that rural communities have experienced over the last few years. In a 2007 study, the Census Bureau estimated that 1,220 of the nation’s 3,141 counties have declined in population since 2000. Most of the losses occurred in rural counties in the Great Plains, northern and central Appalchia, and regions of the rural South and West. However, in 1,054 of those counties, the Hispanic population increased, minimizing overall population losses. Without the growth of Hispanics in these counties, the overall population loss would have exceeded 2.2 million. Such a great population loss can result in economic devastation of a town. For example, places such as Ulysses, Kansas previously had strips of abandoned stores and empty houses. However, immigrants have helped revitalize this town. Fore more thoughts on Ulysses, see this post.

Other natives from small towns feel immigration has had negative impacts, such as Hispanic immigrants taking jobs and sending money back to Mexico instead of investing in the community, while some natives just want to hold on to the idea of “how it used to be.” However, whether immigrants are “taking jobs” is debatable as it raises the question of whether these are jobs that locals would even want in the first place. Whether a community views immigration positively or negatively, the fact remains that Hispanic immigration has expanded from metropolitan areas to more rural areas, and diversity in these small towns is sure to increase as immigrants continue to build their homes and lives in these communities.