Friday, July 22, 2016

Social problems in rural areas change nature of USDA and its concept of rural development

Pomeroy, Ohio (Bloomberg News photo by Ty Wright)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is "becoming Uncle Sam’s lead tool to fight a social emergency -- soaring drug use, rising suicide rates and deepening poverty -- spreading across the heartland," Alan Bjerga reports for Bloomberg News.

“We’re charged with the responsibility of filling the gap to make sure rural America hasn’t been forgotten,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bjerga, who reported from Pomeroy, Ohio, "a town of about 1,800 people about 200 miles south of Cleveland, where . . . the opioid epidemic has accompanied an ebbing-away of jobs and, among some demographics, an unprecedented drop in life expectancy. Any Norman Rockwell idyll of white-picket fences and unlocked front doors has long since been upended by globalization."

"Such social problems have changed the government’s conception of rural development, says Vilsack, who’s under consideration by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as a possible running mate. Five years ago, “We might have made a grant for a fire station,” he said in an interview. “Now it might be a substance-abuse center.” (As a candidate in 1982007, Clinton said she favored renaming the Agriculture Department the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.)

“Most people in cities are now several generations away from life on the farm, and some even think of rural areas as our dumping ground,” eminent Cornell University sociologist Daniel Lichter told Bjega. “It’s where we send our prisoners, our garbage and our toxic waste.”

Bjerga says USDA's role illustrates a point not often made: "The government, like the wider culture, is much more attuned to the problems of urban areas where most Americans live. That’s why Donald Trump’s message -- repeated at the Republican National Convention up the road in Cleveland, where he accepted the nomination last night -- of fighting for the small-town folks has resonated so much in rural parts of swing states like Ohio."

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Bjerga, “When your government is based on the assumption that the country is going to be 90 percent urban, you’re going to concentrate resources on urban areas,” Davis said. “The USDA becomes the ‘rural’ agency that’s left with this wide mandate, even if it’s not always the best fit.” (Read more)

1 comment:

steveh46 said...

It was 2007 not 1987 that Hillary was a candidate.