Monday, August 08, 2016

Expatriate from rural area stuck in poverty says it has lost its sense of community

Stilwell, Oklahoma, is the poorest 
rural area in the northeastern part 
of the state. (Best Places map)
Poverty has become a way of life in some rural Oklahoma communities, Michael Overall reports for the Tulsa World. "Simply being rural is itself a significant risk factor for poverty, according to the nonprofit Oklahoma Policy Institute. Rural areas always tend to be poorer than urban or suburban communities, with 14.2 percent of the rural U.S. population living in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of the urban population, according to Oklahoma Policy’s research. And the national average jumps to 16.8 percent poverty in rural counties—like Adair County in eastern Oklahoma—that are not contiguous with an urban area."

Shelldon Miggletto, who recently resigned as city clerk of Stilwell, in the poorest rural area in northeastern Oklahoma, told Overall, “We’re the forgotten poor. Or maybe we’re not forgotten, just ignored. We have three to four generations of families in which welfare is a way of life. They don’t know any better. They don’t know how to break out of the cycle."

According to Oklahoma Policy, the three main factors that contribute to rural poverty are: lack of amenities, leaving people with nothing to do; geographic isolation, with no cities close by or a lack of transportation opportunities; and social norms, such as teenage parents, no jobs and low education, which leads many to adopt an attitude of "why try," Overall reports.

Such areas have lost a sense of community that once sustained them, says Lisa Pruitt, who grew up in rural Arkansas an hour from Stilwell, where she has family, and is a law professor at the University of California-Davis. She told Overall, "People have a misconception about rural poverty that it is somehow not as debilitating as urban poverty. We cling to the notions that small towns will still function as a community where people will rally around each other and help. So maybe you’re poor, but at least you’re living in this beautiful, pristine countryside and at least your neighbors will take care of you. It’s not like that at all.” (Read more)

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