|Hickman County (Wikipedia map)|
A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
|Hickman County (Wikipedia map)|
|Second-most prevalent race or ethnicity in U.S. counties, 2010 and 2020|
Census Bureau maps for 2010 and 2020, adapted by The Rural Blog; click to enlarge.
Rural America is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and Latinx and multi-ethnic people drove almost all rural population growth, recently released Census Bureau data show."Traditionally, rural communities have not been as racially or ethnically diverse as the nation overall. The 2020 Census reported that approximately 74.8% of the rural population is White non-Hispanic, compared to 57.8% for the United States as a whole. Hispanics are the second most prevalent racial or ethnic group in rural America comprising 10.4% of the rural population. It is important to note that Hispanics may be of any race. With a population count of 4.5 million, Black residents make up 7.4% of the rural population, and are the third most prevalent racial or ethnic group in rural areas," Lance George, Natasha Moodie and Keith Wiley report for The Daily Yonder. "Both nationally and in rural areas, some of the largest growth among racial and ethnic groups were among residents who identified themselves as being of two or more races. In rural communities in 2020, approximately 2.4 million or four percent of the rural population were of two or more races. Persons of two or more races surpassed Native Americans as the fourth most prevalent racial or ethnic group in rural areas. Native Americans, identified as American Indians or Alaska Natives, comprised roughly two percent of the rural population in 2020 – which is more than twice the rate of Native Americans nationally."
|Grasshoppers in the Field, created by artist Gary Greff in 1999, is one of seven sculptures along the "Enchanted Highway" (which has no road number) near Regent, North Dakota. (Photo provided)|
An artist has single-handedly turned a 32-mile stretch of highway in North Dakota into a tourist mecca of art called the Enchanted Highway. It started in 1990 in Regent, a farming town struggling from economic troubles and a declining population. Local teacher-turned-artist Gary Greff decided to try to make the town into a tourist destination, so he began erecting large metal sculptures by the roadside. See how things are going for Regent now.
A social-justice activist raised in rural Montana has launched a project to train white people who have never thought of themselves as activists to organize and confront racist policies in their communities. It's not an issue of white guilt, he says, but rather because most people don't benefit from our current social structure. Read more here.
California utilities giant Pacific Gas & Electric has been charged with four counts of manslaughter and other felonies for allegedly causing 2020's deadly Zogg Fire. PG&E is accused of not properly maintaining the vegetation around equipment, which allowed a sickly tree to fall onto power lines and start the fire. This isn't the first time PG&E has been found responsible for a wildfire: In 2020, PG&E pleaded guilty of 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire, after it was discovered the company did not maintain electrical equipment in rural areas. Read more here.
Native American tribes demand 'immediate action' from the Biden administration to restore the boundaries for Bears Ears National Monument after Donald Trump shrank it by 85%. Read more here.
At one of the nation's largest meatpacking plants, workers say their complaints of serious injuries were ignored or downplayed, reports the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. One man was pushed to work with what turned out to be a fractured vertebra. Read more here.
In Mississippi, which has one of the nation's lowest (but also one of the fastest-rising), vaccination rates, the state is hiring retired extension agents to help get rural residents vaccinated. Read more here.
Covid-19 is the leading cause of death among law enforcement. Read more here.
Covid is killing rural Americans at twice the rate of urban residents. Read more here, and read The Daily Yonder's more in-depth coverage here.
The vaccines on the market don't protect as well against the Delta variant, but Pfizer and Moderna have updated Delta-specific vaccines already created and in clinical trials. Read more here.
Meanwhile, Merck says a preliminary trial of their antiviral Covid treatment pill showed promising results. Read more here.
Vaccination misinformation is an epidemic in its own right, especially among Republicans and evangelical Christians. YouTube is banning all anti-vaccine content, but pandemic misinformation groups on Facebook continue to flourish.
The Agriculture Department announced Tuesday a $3 billion investment in large-scale pilot projects to create new markets for sustainably produced agricultural products. The programs, set to go into effect next year, would provide incentives for producers who adopt climate-friendly practices. Here's the breakdown:
The money will be released in a series of pilot projects funded by the Commodity Credit Corp., a Depression-era program that allows the federal government to borrow as much as $30 billion from the federal treasury for programs meant to stabilize farm income.
In a University of Colorado speech, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed that the programs are primarily about increasing commodity production and trade, and were not carbon banks, carbon markets, or conservation programs. Such a distinction allows the CCC to pay for the programs, Chuck Abbott writes for the Food and Environment Reporting Network.
USDA will accept public comments on the funding until Nov. 1.
|New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Sept. 19-25|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
|Bachman's warbler (Whatbird.com)|
|Ivory-billed woodpecker (Getty Images)|
|Gun deaths by county type, 2015-21 (Washington Post chart; click image to enlarge)|
"Killings in the United States jumped nearly 30 percent last year, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data released Monday that indicate a growing number of gun-related slayings amid the pandemic," Devlin Barrett and David Nakamura report for The Washington Post. "While different places saw different rates of increase in killings, the rise was nearly universal across the country, occurring in small towns, big cities, and many places in between."
The 29.4 percent increase in murder and manslaughter is "the largest one-year increase since such the federal government began compiling national figures in the 1960s," Barrett and Nakamura report. "That historic increase has been known for some time, and has sparked concern from police officials and prosecutors. But the FBI release of data compiled from thousands of law enforcement agencies formally confirms the trend. Overall, violent crime rose 5.6 percent in 2020, while property crimes fell 7.8 percent, the FBI said. Assaults increased 12 percent, according to the bureau."
First-time gun ownership jumped from 32% of Americans to 39% last year, the largest such increase in decades. It's unclear how much that trend contributed to the increase in gun violence and deaths, but an analysis "found the higher the jump in gun sales between 2019 and 2020, the higher the jump in gun violence that resulted in at least one death," the Post reports.
|Agriculture Department chart; click to enlarge it|
|Percent of children likely to benefit from tax-credit changes|
(Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version)
"An analysis of census data shows that about 49% of rural children were likely to have received increased child tax credits because of changes affecting low-income families. In metropolitan areas, about 39% of children were likely to have benefited from those changes," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder.
The credit was expanded by the American Recovery Plan Act, which Democrats passed early this year. "Under the changes, the maximum per-child credit rose from $2,000 per child to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children 6 and up," the Yonder explains. "The credit was also expanded to include to 17-year-olds for the first time."
The expansion reached more children in poverty because new rules made it newly accessible to the poorest families. However, it will expire at the end of the year unless Congress cements it in law permanently. One spending package before Congress would make the eligibility changes permanent and "extend the increased per-child payment through 2025," Marema reports.
|Lisa Schulte Moore|
|A prairie strip on an Iowa farm (Iowa State University photo)|
A TV meteorologist of 33 years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was fired after refusing to take a coronavirus vaccine. Read more here.
The Daily Yonder has an in-depth profile of how the surge in Covid patients is hammering the hospital in Morehead, Kentucky. Read more here.
What it's like working for Walmart, the nation's top rural employer, in a pandemic. Read more here.
The pandemic has caused one of the biggest global drops in life expectancy since World War II. A study of 29 developed countries revealed that Americans saw the largest drop, especially in men and people of color. The advanced nations that didn't see a drop (Denmark and Norway) both have comprehensive, universal health-care systems and implemented widespread, early "non-pharmaceutical interventions" with high compliance, such as social distancing and masking. Read more here.
Though 99% of its employees complied, North Carolina hospital system Novant Health fired about 175 people for not getting vaccinated. The company has 15 hospitals and 800 clinics, some in rural areas. Last week, 375 workers were suspended and given five days to comply. Nearly 200, including some who had been approved for exemptions, got their first dose by Friday and were reinstated. Novant's compliance numbers jibe with recent data that suggests employees who say they'll quit rather than get vaccinated aren't likely to follow through. However, dozens of state troopers in Massachusetts quit following a vaccine mandate, and hundreds of New York health-care workers have been suspended after its vaccine mandate went into effect. And meanwhile, leaders in a rural Colorado county are asking the governor for an exception to the vaccine mandate because too many health-care workers are quitting, worsening workforce shortages. Without local control of the vaccine mandate, they say many health-care facilities won't be able to stay open.
Stateline highlights Bingham Township, Pennsylvania, as an example. The quiet community has mostly dirt-and-gravel roads, and many of its residents are Amish. Local leaders turned down about $69,000 in federal aid because they couldn't think of a way to spend it. "That’s the main reason why we opted not to do it,” Cheryl Young, the township's secretary, told Quinton. "There’s no sense having [the money] sit here for two years, then turn around and send it back, because you can’t spend it."
At the hearing this morning, survivors of the 2018 attack and the loved ones of the victims delivered emotional impact statements as shooter Jarrod Ramos watched, Emily Davies and Katie Mettler report for The Washington Post. Reporter Selene San Felice, who hid under a desk during the shooting, spoke first. "There were days I wondered why I lived or if I should live at all ... I live to spread the truth," she said. "We will press on.""This summer, a jury found Ramos had the mental and emotional capacity to be held criminally responsible for the mass shooting. Although Ramos had pleaded guilty to the murders, he had argued he was not legally sane at the time and should be sent to a psychiatric hospital with the potential for release instead of prison," the Post reports. "The jury had arrived at its verdict in less than two hours." The judge made a brief but heartfelt statement before announcing the sentence, the Gazette reports: "To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement," Wachs said. "What I impose is what the defendant deserves."
|Vaccination rates as of Sept. 23 compared to the national average, adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.|
"The number of vaccinations completed each week has been on the rise since mid-August. Rural counties reported completing 50% more vaccinations in September than in August. In metro counties, completed vaccinations were up 30% in September over August," Murphy and Marema report.
Click here for more charts, maps and regional analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive map.
For the past six years, renewable energy companies have been approaching Kentucky farmers about leasing their land for three solar-power projects in different stages of development. "Solar energy represents a change for a commonwealth whose economic prospects have long been tied to labor-intensive industries like coal and tobacco. But that change is coming, through tax credits, infrastructure deals and climate change incentives," Melina Walling reports for Louisville's Courier Journal.
But not everyone is on board with the prospect. "As the projects move forward and more people learn about them, questions tend to arise — questions that the solar companies, which do not have a permanent liaison in this rural area, are not always on hand to answer," Walling reports.
That often leaves farmers who have signed up for solar leasing to educate and convince their neighbors that such a venture is legitimate—sometimes a difficult job when the projects aren't yet live and bringing in profits for farmers. But it's more than a question of whether solar power is viable. Many farmers feel that leasing their land is tantamount to losing it, Walling reports. Others just don't know enough about the process and say they need more input.
Solar is a winning idea, arguies Jim Waters of free-market think tank Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. In a Courier Journal op-ed, he writes: "By embracing such plentiful but inexpensive power, Kentucky would have a clean, renewable supply of energy, allowing it to continue – as it’s did with coal – boasting some of the nation’s cheapest energy rates, keeping utility costs low and rendering ineffective calls for economically harmful policies like raising gas taxes for needed revenues."
However, the notion brings iffy rewards and needs more study, writes Will Mayer, the executive director of Clark Coalition, a land-use advocacy organization. "While the developers are quick to paint a picture of struggling farmers needing the income (that supposedly only solar can provide) the truth is somewhat more complex. In fact, many of those under-contract for solar development are absentee landowners, not farmers. By contrast, many of the farmers who actually make their living from the land will invariably suffer from the loss of their farm leases," Mayer writes in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The uneven consequences of large solar facilities are further brought to focus by their impact on adjoining property owners. Contrary to developers’ claims that their facilities do not negatively affect nearby properties, independent valuation studies demonstrate they cause a decline of up to 30%. Industrial solar proposals are neither uniformly bad nor good – rather they are complex and demand a transparent analysis to ensure that they are sited appropriately, and that the associated benefits do not disproportionately accrue to the developers and outside interests while the real financial and environmental costs are borne by Kentuckians."
|Total Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings by county, 2013-2020 |
(Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting map; click on the image to enlarge it)
Farm bankruptcies have been on the rise over the past decade, Sky Chadde reports for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Many factors contribute: climate change, increasing production costs, decreasing income, the trade war, high debt levels and suicide. Chapter 12 of the bankruptcy law is used to reorganize debts and save family farms through debt reorganization, but research shows it may be harder to reorganize debts under Chapter 12 than under other bankruptcy types. Read more here.
Farmworker and environmental groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for reapproving the weed killer paraquat, which they say puts farmworkers at an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Read more here.
Farmworkers are trafficked by employers using the H-2A program, which "provides scaffolding for the agricultural system, allowing farms to bring in enough labor to pick fruits and vegetables Americans rely on," according to experts and activists, Amanda Perez Pintado reports for the Midwest Center. They "fear the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed the situation to grow." Read more here.
|Rural/urban vaccination rates as of Aug. 12, compared to national average and adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. (Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or here for the interactive version.)|