Monday, June 30, 2014

Rural vs. urban stories in New York Times contradict each other, Daily Yonder editor writes

Last week The New York Times published a story saying that six Eastern Kentucky towns were among the 10 most difficult places in the U.S. to live based on longevity of life in relation to education, income, unemployment rate, disability rate, obesity rate and life expectancy. Tim Marema, editor of the Daily Yonder, responds to the Times story by comparing it to a similar story that appeared a few days later in the newspaper that he says contradicted the first story by coming to the conclusion that people in struggling rural areas are liabilities who need to move away, while those in struggling urban ones are assets who need to stay put.

"In a magazine piece titled 'The Problem with Eastern Kentucky,' Annie Lowrey says mountain residents should hit the road to find better economic opportunity," Marema writes. "She argues that safety-net and anti-poverty programs are actually hurting the economy in the long run because they don’t encourage mobility. But Monica Davey reports from Detroit in a Times’ news story that the Motor City 'desperately needs to hold onto residents.' The reason: to keep the city viable by retaining a critical mass of population."

"The pieces are like night and day," Marema writes. "In the story on rural Kentucky, Lowery argues that government poverty-reduction programs hurt people by encouraging them to remain in a distressed area. From Detroit, Davey reports on the efforts of public entities to lessen the burden of home foreclosures and tax liens. There’s not a whiff of disagreement from any quarter—what Detroit needs most is for people to stay where they are."

"So why do two stories, both covering the topic of economic distress, both dealing with migration, printed within days of each other in the Times, focus on such different solutions to the problem?" Marema writes. "Could it have something to do with the fact that Detroit is urban and Eastern Kentucky is rural? In Detroit, people are assets, the building blocks of a new future. In rural Kentucky, they’re liabilities, the remnants of a failed economic past. In Detroit, folks need to shelter in place for the betterment of all. In Kentucky, it’s long past time to load up and move on . . .  If people are assets, paying for their relief is good. If people are liabilities, helping them is money down the drain."

Although Lowery does not approve of the "'trillions of dollars spent to improve the state of the poor in the United States and promote development,'" spending that money to help those who live in cities is apparently advantageous, Marema writes. "More than a few public dollars have flowed into Detroit in the last generation to relieve poverty and rebuild infrastructure. But there’s still plenty of poor people there."

Lower's Eastern Kentucky facts are accurate, and it can be a difficult place to live. Millions of rural Appalachians have, in fact moved away—and many went to Detroit, he writes. "And we’re willing to bet the people now leaving that city include plenty of Appalachian descendants."

"But I find her conclusion smug," he writes. "She has cleverly figured out where to move the human pieces on the map. It is as if East Kentuckians were not living, breathing beings capable of acting in their own behalf. I’d love a good discussion about poverty—both rural and urban. And one about public policy and how to move forward together as a nation. But remember, while we’re having this discussion, rural folks are standing right here. You know we can hear you, right?" (Read more)

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