Friday, September 08, 2023

Labor costs, drugs and inflation push health care costs up; painful pricetag will be felt by employers and workers

Wall Street Journal graph, from WTW data
Many Americans will see higher health-care coverage costs during fall open-enrollment periods. "Health-insurance costs are climbing at the steepest rate in years, with some projecting the biggest increase in more than a decade will wallop businesses and their workers in 2024," reports Anna Wilde Mathews of The Wall Street Journal. "Costs for employer coverage are expected to surge around 6.5% for 2024, according to major benefits consulting firms Mercer and Willis Towers Watson.

Coverage pricetags will be painful for employers, families and individual participants. Employers "already average more than $14,600 a year per employee," Mathews writes, "driving up health-insurance costs that are among the biggest expenses for many American companies and a drain on families' finances. . . . For people who have individual insurance plans sold under the Affordable Care Act, premiums are also expected to rise by about 6% next year, according to public insurance filings analyzed by health-research nonprofit KFF."

"Among the factors leading to the faster health-insurance cost growth are hospitals' higher labor costs and heavy demand for new and expensive diabetes and obesity drugs," Mathews explains. "The employer-plan increases are expected to strike businesses of all sizes. . . . For several years, health-coverage costs nationally increased relatively slowly, partly because the pandemic chilled doctor and hospital visits. Yet hospitals have had to hike wages for nurses and pay more for other expenses."

Some companies will increase employee costs, bumping up co-pays and deductibles to cover premium costs, but other businesses will opt to pass the expense onto customers. Mathews reports, "Many employers are expected to take on the lion's share of the increase, partly due to a labor market that remains tight in many sectors, benefits consultants said." Inflation has also made its way into the equation. Tim Stawicki, the chief healthcare actuary at Willis Towers Watson, told the Journal: "The inflation we saw a year ago is finally making its way into the [health care] contracts. It's like a delayed reaction."

Kansas case is an inflection point for rural newspapers

By Al Cross
Director emeritus, Institute for Rural Journalism, University of Kentucky  

After local police raided the office of the Marion County Record and the home of its owners, creating a national outcry that was entirely justified, the question was asked in newspaper offices around the country, and sometimes in their pages: “Could this happen here?”

It’s more likely in some places than others, depending on the nature of the paper, the town, its leaders and the police.

Publisher Eric Meyer talks with journalists after getting his weekly
newspaper out despite police confiscation of most of its computers.
In the Record’s case, the accountability journalism that Publisher Eric Meyer practiced and taught in Milwaukee and Illinois hasn’t gone down well with some powerful people in his hometown of Marion, Kansas, since he returned two years ago.

But eight years ago, such a raid would have been hard to imagine, even in towns where the newspaper’s relations with police and elected officials are poor.

What has happened in the last eight years? For one thing, social media have become the primary source of information for Americans, and a presidential candidate – who was president for four of those years – has used social and other media to cast all news media as “the enemy of the people.”

Social media are often more compelling and entertaining than the local news reported by community newspapers, so they have shifted Americans’ attention more in the direction of national events and issues. That, and the declining audiences of local news media, have reduced citizens’ familiarity with their local media and blurred the distinctions between local and national media.

All that gives comfort and perhaps license to the adversaries of local news media, like the Marion police chief whose past the Record was investigating but had not reported at the time of the raid. Using some trumped-up assertions and assumptions, he got a low-level magistrate from another county to sign search warrants.

The day after the raid, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, who worked at the weekly for 50 years, collapsed and died, and her son blamed it on the police.

Surely no one wished ill, much less death, to Joan Meyer. But the Record’s case is not a one-off; in March some law-enforcement officials in next-door Oklahoma said they would like to kill the weekly McCurtain Gazette reporter who had been investigating them.

Again, it’s hard to imagine such a conversation happening eight years ago. The corrosion and division of our national public life has leached into our small towns, and it seems that in some of those places, the more a community newspaper tries to fulfill its role completely, the more it is seen as an enemy – if not of the people, of their leaders.

It’s a maxim of rural journalism that it’s more difficult to do hard-nosed accountability journalism in rural places. Resources are fewer, and the folks you try to hold accountable are your neighbors. If they have economic or political power, that can make accountability journalism more difficult, and editorial timidity is common in community papers.

That’s a matter of degree, to be sure. America has rural newspapers that cover courthouses and city halls like they were state or national capitols, and have strong editorial pages; at the other end of the spectrum it has those that barely cover the regular meetings of public agencies and serve as public-relations vehicles for elected officials.

That’s a wide spectrum, and I fear that its median point is moving in the latter direction, for several reasons.

The shrinkage of newspapers’ audiences and revenue have made them less independent, less willing to risk economic or other harm. The polarization of national politics has reached the local level, making some excellent rural editors think twice or pull their punches when looking beyond the county line, or stop publishing letters and commentaries about non-local issues because they are so divisive. (You can read about those trends in “The Trump Effect on Rural Communities and their Newspapers,” a chapter I wrote for The Future of the Presidency, Journalism and Democracy, published last year by Routledge.)

The raid on the Record is an inflection point on that spectrum. Will it mainly stiffen the backbones of rural newspapers, prompting rededication to accountability journalism? Or will more worry that making waves isn’t good for a business that needs no more risks?

Community journalism is more than a business; it is an essential public service, envisioned by our nation’s founders when they wrote the First Amendment. Many Americans still understand that, but not enough, partly because they’re no longer engaged with it. Rebuilding that audience requires, in part, engaging with them on the social-media platforms where they have gone – and explaining the difference in social media and news media.

Here’s my freshly revised elevator speech on that point: News media pay for journalism, which practices a discipline of verification: We emphasize facts, and we tell you how we got them. Social media emphasize opinion, and have no discipline or verification. Which should you trust?

And when we explain accountability journalism, news media need to make clear that they are accountable, too. And that watchdogs sometimes bark when they shouldn’t – but if a watchdog doesn’t sometimes engage in extraneous barking, it does not serve the purpose for which you got the watchdog.

Most Americans want watchdogs. Eric Meyer told Dan Kois of Slate, “If you read my email, they’re supporting us from the extreme left and the extreme right. This is one of the few issues that unites both sides.”

Meyer told me that many express their support privately but not publicly. That seems not to bother him. “We’re sticking to it,” he said. “We want to set an example that we won’t be intimidated.”

This is the latest "Sustaining Rural Journalism" column for Publishers' Auxiliary, the monthly newspaper of the National Newspaper Association.

By addressing inmates' mental health problems, some rural counties aim to stop a cycle of incarceration

Photo via RHIHub

Rural jail population statistics paint a grim picture of traumatized, abused or mentally ill individuals who volley between jail and life outside without ever receiving treatment; rural counties aim to change that dynamic by addressing mental health needs during incarceration, reports Gretel Kauffman for Rural Health Information Hub.

Washington County, Texas, pop. 35,000, is one of those countries. Eric Hensley, the county's chief sheriff's deputy overseeing jail operations, "heard about a psychological telehealth program at nearby Texas A&M University. Hensley immediately began to wonder how the technology could be used in the Washington County Jail," Kauffman reports. "Three years later, an estimated 150 people incarcerated in the Washington County jail have participated in virtual group or one-on-one counseling through a partnership between the jail and the Texas A&M Telebehavioral Care program, and two other rural Texas counties have replicated the program in their own jails, too."

In Marion, Ohio, pop. 36,000, "seeing familiar faces in the courtroom was a common occurrence for James Boleyn," Kauffman reports. "Boleyn, who serves as Director of Specialized Dockets for Marion Municipal Court, told Kauffman, "We were running into this situation again and again, and we decided we needed to do something as a community and say, 'How can we interrupt this cycle and better resource these individuals?'" Kauffman adds, "In 2021, Marion County signed onto the Stepping Up Initiative, a project by the National Association of Counties that encourages counties to improve and expand mental health resources in their local criminal justice systems. . . .The county is focusing its efforts inside the jail, which hasn't offered mental health treatment services up until this point."

Many communities address inmates' mental health needs while helping them plan for life upon release. Kauffman reports, "While rural communities may have fewer mental health resources available to people recently released from jail, that simplicity can also help to streamline the transition process, Erin Comartin, an associate professor in the Wayne State University School of Social Work, noted. In one rural community she worked with, the mental health center and jail were a parking lot away from each other." Comartin told Kaufman: "It was really great because when the jail was releasing somebody, they just call over and say, 'Hey, do you want to come to the other end of the parking lot and help this person get back into services?'"

Isaac Saldivar, a psychologist working virtually with clients in the Washington County Jail and two other rural county jails, "describes jail-based mental health services as having the potential to produce a 'dramatic domino effect' throughout rural communities," Kauffman writes, "The more they heal, the healthier the community becomes." Saldivar told Kauffman: “These are community members that are hurting and need healing. That's someone's friend, someone's brother, someone's sister, someone's father. And the more they heal, the healthier the community becomes.”

Friday Fauna: World's oldest chicken; island for cows; dog escapes to nursing home; giraffe with no spots?

Peanut eats blueberry yogurt, grapes, bananas and vegetables.
(Photo via Smithsonian)
Meet "Peanut," the world's oldest chicken. She's sassy and just celebrated her 21st birthday, reports Sarah Kuta of Smithsonian magazine. Peanut loves her morning blueberry yogurt, muttering in the garden, possibly doing Chicken Little re-writes. The bantam hen is a "character" with a "ragtag group of chicken friends," reports Bridge Michigan. In addition to not being afraid to peck at cats, Peanut just earned another distinction: Guinness World Records has named her the world's oldest living chicken.

Chirikof Island sits in the Gulf of Alaska, a verdant home to over 2,000 feral bulls and cows, reports Jude Isabella of Hakai magazine. The remote island, affectionately known as the "Republic of Cows," has been a bovine home for 200 years, perhaps more.

This dog's first nursing home break-in was back in 2017. "He leaped over two fences and crossed a highway, then sauntered into the nursing home lobby through an automatic revolving door and parked himself on a brown-colored couch," reports Sydney Page of The Washington Post. Find out what happened next.

The spotless giraffe is ​the first one seen in 50 years.
(AP photo via National Geographic)
Spots, stripes, glow in the dark--nature has relentless creature fashion, but sometimes, less is more. This baby giraffe was born without blocked spots. It's a phenomenon that "hasn't been observed in any giraffe for more than 50 years," reports Dina Fine Maron of National Geographic. "She was born last month at Brights Zoo, a family-owned facility in Limestone, Tennessee. A spotless giraffe was last reported at a Tokyo zoo in 1972."

Well, meow--think you know everything about cats? This article thinks maybe you don't. "What makes cats even more interesting is that there are so many things we don't know about them despite their popularity. So, here are some of the most intriguing facts about cats that even their biggest fans don't know," writes Nancy Truman of Last Night On. "Your cat thinks you're bad at hunting . . ."

In 2021, Brood emerged throughout the Eastern U.S. in the trillions.
(Photo by Rebecca Hale, Nat Geo Image Collection)
If you thought there were more cicadas this year, you're right. "Some Americans are getting a preview of summer 2024, when two periodical cicada broods will emerge simultaneously for the first time in 221 years—an event rarer than Halley's comet," reports Kiley Price of National Geographic. Find out what's in store for 2024 here.

There are reasons to scout for whitetail deer year round. The animal needs hunters to keep its numbers in check and people need the food. There's even an app to aid in the scouting.

Roadkill is a 'rural reality;' these tips plan for safety, removal and even alternative uses for carcasses

Photo by Tor Styger, Unsplash
"There's not much that's sweeter, after the hot, muggy dog days of summer, than opening your windows to a cool breeze of country-fresh air, except when that breeze carries the stench of carrion. Unless you're a turkey vulture, there's not much to love about dead stuff that's been overcooked on hot pavement. But roadkill is a reality on country roads, so it's good to know how to deal with it," reports Donna Kallner of The Daily Yonder. A gently edited list of Kallner's roadkill best practices is below.

For drivers. After hitting an animal, find a safe place to pull over and catch your breath. Consider potential hazards to other motorists. Note the location. If you have cell service, report the collision to the county sheriff’s office. If you plan to continue driving, text your planned route and ETA to a trusted contact in case damage to the vehicle causes problems later. Consider what other issues might arise. For example, a driver who swerved to miss a deer and ran off the road was able to drive out of the ditch. But his car took out the electric fence for a horse pasture, and horses on the highway are a huge hazard.

First things first. "Managing" often begins by determining (cautiously) whether the animal is alive. A wounded animal can be dangerous and unpredictable. Non-fatal injuries to protected species like raptors might require a call to a wildlife rehabilitation facility for guidance. Sometimes, though, the kindest thing may be to put it out of its misery. That job may fall to a deputy if you advise law enforcement that the animal appears to be fatally injured and suffering. Don't be surprised if the driver of the truck that pulls over to see if you need help is carrying a firearm when they approach. Also, don't be surprised if a gun-toting Good Samaritan has to blow their nose and wipe their eyes after ending an animal's suffering.

Who cleans up? While state laws vary, in Wisconsin local government is charged with the removal of large carcasses on the road or the shoulder if they could present a hazard to motorists. So, for a large animal, it's advisable to notify your county sheriff’s department so they can assess the situation. But things can get pretty whiffy before the county highway department or its carcass contractor shows up. So able-bodied people with rural addresses tend to manage mostly on their own for smaller critters or with help from neighbors for bigger ones.

Tools of the trade. For most small critters, we manage removal from the road with just a shovel and perhaps a nudge from a booted toe. The shovel is convenient for carrying a small animal to a final resting place, digging a hole, and covering the carcass with enough dirt to tamp down the smell. Sometimes, a rake is handy for gathering up parts – especially when you don't want your boots to smell of skunk. For handling remains, you will want gloves – especially where Chronic Wasting Disease or other potential contagions may be present. Webbing straps or ropes and pulleys may be helpful when you need to get a larger animal into a truck bed to haul far enough away to let scavengers manage clean-up. When there's snow on the ground, a sled can be used. Calling a neighbor with an end-loader is always an option.

Doggone it. As soon as we know there's roadkill by our place, we assume our dog will follow her nose to it. For her own safety, she gets put inside while we manage the mess. We keep a close eye on the dog for a few days to keep her from following the scent trail. Never underestimate the distance at which a dog can pick up a foul scent when you have company coming.

But is it a bad thing? Some people who raise chickens or ducks ask friends to be on the lookout for roadkill of the fox or coyote persuasion. Nailed up nearby, a rotting carcass acts as a deterrent to other predators. And the birds appreciate the maggots that drop as nature takes its course.

Other uses. I know basket makers who are happy to pick up roadkilled porcupines to harvest their quills. Wildlife rehabilitation facilities feed it to their patients.

Roadside abandonment. Hauling away roadkill is probably less common in rural areas than simply letting nature take its course – preferably off the pavement and at least a quarter-mile away from a residence. It also provides food for birds of prey and other wildlife. It's not pretty, and it sure can stink. But it doesn't last forever. And watching a bald eagle feed on a deer carcass in the ditch is a sight to behold.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

'Free' school meals for students are rolling out in many states this year; how to pay for them remains a hurdle

States look to offer free meals for all students.
(CDC photo, Unsplash)
Several states have moved to ensure all students, regardless of income, are offered free, nutritious breakfasts or lunches at school, with some states providing both. "Eight states—California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont—have enacted permanent policies to provide free meals for all students," reports Daniel C. Vock of Route Fifty. "Nevada is doing so for at least this year. Pennsylvania is providing free school breakfasts for everybody. And Illinois lawmakers authorized universal meals but did not allocate the funding to provide them."

The waves of pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 highlighted how much families rely on school meals to feed their children. "For some children, school meals may be the only ones they get in a day," reports Cory Turner of NPR. In response, the Department of Agriculture moved to "forgo traditional, school-year paperwork to prevent child hunger. If a child wants a meal, that child gets a meal, and the school gets compensated by USDA whether that meal goes to an eligible student, a younger sibling or a kid from the nearby private school." But last year, the USDA reverted to applications and income eligibility requirements, leaving many families in a lurch--prices for food at home were up 13.5% in August 2022.

"Part of the reason for the nationwide push, said Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school time programs for the Food Research & Action Center, is that schools saw the benefit of universal free meals during the pandemic," Vock writes. "The federal government paid school districts to offer free meals to students—regardless of income—for the school years that started in 2020 and 2021." FitzSimons told Vock: "Schools across the country last year had to go back to the way the school nutrition programs operated before the pandemic, and so many states did not want to go back to it."

Massachusetts just "rolled out full coverage for school meals," Vock reports. "The money for the Massachusetts expansion comes from a 4% income tax on millionaires that voters there approved last year. For other states, how to pay for free school meals remains a hurdle. Some school districts have been able to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision, a program where the federal government picks up the tab for meals for all students in low-income schools rather than on a student-by-student basis. . . . It cuts back the paperwork for school districts and doesn't require them to collect lunch fees."

Making sure school children are fed at school has broad public support and health benefits. FRAC research has found "receiving free or reduced-price school lunches reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health." Vock adds, "FitzSimons said free school meals remain popular with the public, with FRAC polling showing that 63% of voters support making free meals permanently available."

Is learning to garden a way to prevent food insecurity?

A youngster in Letcher County, Ky. enjoys the family garden.
(Photo by Silas Walker, Lexington Herald-Leader)
Many rural Kentuckians struggle with food insecurity, but teaching residents how to garden might be one answer to the problem, reports Rick Childress of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Rising food prices and a sudden cut off of Covid-related federal benefits have made it harder for many in Eastern Kentucky and other rural areas of the state to access healthy, nutritious foods. While local pantries work to bridge the access gap by providing food, other nonprofits and researchers are trying to provide more ways for folks to grow or buy more of their own produce locally."

Gardening as a way of life predates the "region's decades of coal booms," Childress writes. "Jason Brashear, interim director of the Pine Mountain Settlement School said, 'Before coal, many people in the mountains survived and thrived on subsistence farming.'" Brashear told Childress: "If we go back in our history 75 years ago, everybody gardened. Everybody had some sort of a farmstead that they produced the majority of the food that they ate in the year." As coal jobs, money and local grocery stores entered the region, the popularity and knowledge of gardening dwindled.

Childress reports, "One program that has helped many 'return back to gardening' is Grow Appalachia, Brashear said. For over 13 years, the Berea College strategic initiative has partnered with nonprofits in multiple states to provide seeds and other gardening supplies needed to make an organic garden, as well as the education on how to grow and preserve that produce." Candace Mullins, the executive director of Grow Appalachia, told Childress: "Having the resources is a huge barrier to learning how to garden. It's expensive to buy hose, seeds, fertilizer, plants — I mean, you could easily spend $1,000 trying to get a garden going for a new gardener." Childress adds, "Since Grow Appalachia started, over 7,000 families have participated and harvested nearly 7 million pounds of produce, Mullins said."

"The Pine Mountain Settlement School has been a Grow Appalachia partner since 2010 and so far this growing season, they have 45 families involved in the program who have produced over 14,000 pounds of produce. Along with receiving supplies, they also participate in educational meetings at the school. Being able to access fresh food is perhaps just as big of an obstacle as affording it," Childress reports. 

Once food is grown and harvested, it has to be prepared, which takes learning. "A University of Kentucky research project, called Laurel HARVEST, aims to educate Laurel County residents on how to cook nutritious meals," Childress writes. "Kathryn Cardarelli, a UK faculty member in the College of Public Health leading the project, said the multi-year study offers a blend of in-person and Zoom sessions on topics like preparing food, eating healthy on a budget, and reading labels."

Local papers give communities 'identity' by reporting local events and celebrations that would otherwise go unrecorded

Rita Sharp, owner of the Lucas-Sylvan News
(Photo by Lori Brack, Kansas Reflector)
When the Marion County Record reported a police raid on their newsroom last month, dozens of U.S. press organizations took notice, and suddenly, the Record and its doggedly honest reporting style received national and even international attention. But that attention didn't also showcase how many strong local newspapers Kansas can boast, reports Lori Brack of the Kansas Reflector. "It's our responsibility to champion publisher Eric Meyer's determination to cover cops, courts and city and county without fear or favor. I encourage us to remember, once the attention drifts from Marion, that many small and smaller newspapers in Kansas also deserve our support. . . . In July, the Lucas-Sylvan News–one of 188 weekly papers in Kansas today–celebrated 135 years in Lucas. "

Rita Sharp has owned the Lucas-Sylvan News weekly since 2012. "It covers the towns of Lucas in Russell County and Sylvan Grove, 12 miles away in Lincoln County," Brack writes. "Sharp's paper has weathered the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of social media as a source for news and advertising, and the aging and shrinking population in Lucas (pop. 337) and Sylvan Grove (pop. 285). Without missing an issue, even when the pandemic closed schools, city and county businesses, and events, Sharp continued publishing. She mails about 450 copies a week to local residents and readers across the country, a circulation that keeps dropping."

Brack reports: "And as it happens, Sharp is selling more papers each week—from $30 to $44 a year for online, in-state, or out-of-state subscriptions—than there are households in Lucas and Sylvan. This [circulation] indicates the importance of the news to residents and those who want to stay in touch with their hometowns. If ads and subscriptions stop supporting small newspapers, this community-building record of births, deaths, high school graduations, 4-H activities and library programs also goes away.

"Each issue is an entertaining reading experience from the front page to the advertisements and obituaries, almost always highlighting children's activities in sports, scholarship, arts, and service."

Sharp told Brack: "People ought to know having a newspaper is an identity for a town, just like having a school and a post office. The printed word is our richest resource there is."

The Color Purple book remains one of the most frequently challenged books more than 40 years after its release

In 2022, the ALA  documented over 1,200 attempts to ban or
restrict library materials. (Thought Catalog photo, Unsplash)
In 1982, Alice Walker's The Color Purple became a critically acclaimed bestseller. But alongside the accolades, the story stirred up enough controversy to became "one of the most challenged books in the nation, withstanding criticisms aimed at its depictions of race and sex, its portrayal of abuse and agony, and even its spelling and style," reports Erin Blakemore of National Geographic. The novel was praised for "its portrayals of both the brutality and sorrow of racism and sexual violence and its celebration of Black women. . . . Though educators recognized the book's potential as a teaching tool, some parents and community members objected to its presence in school curriculums and libraries.

"The first major attempt to ban the book occurred in 1984, when a parent petitioned against its use in an Oakland, California classroom," Blakemore writes. "In a 1985 essay, Walker recalled reading frequent updates on 'how the banning was coming along' and watching the book's sales skyrocket. . . Though the Oakland schools ultimately decided not to remove the book from classrooms, the book has consistently been challenged nationwide since its publication, repeatedly making it on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books."

Why? "Walker's use of slang and profanity, the book's portrayal of brutal Black men, a same-sex encounter between the two main characters, and its depiction of sexual violence in its first pages," Blakemore explains. "'One can eat from a cafeteria or a dumpster…but one would hope those placed in charge of our children would have exercised better oversight,' wrote one parent in a characteristic 2013 challenge in Brunswick County, N.C. (The book has survived multiple attempted bans in the Brunswick County school district.)"

A decade later, the book still faces challenges, but it is not alone. "In 2022, the American Library Association documented over 1,200 attempts to ban or restrict library materials—double the number of challenges from the previous year—and most of which attempted to remove multiple titles from shelves," Blakemore adds. "The Color Purple . . . was removed from library shelves in Florida's Indian County School District at the request of a parent group that objected to 156 of the books on school shelves, claiming the books contain everything from pornography to critical race theory."

The movie adaptation of The Color Purple musical is set for release in December, and once again, the book will be in the public spotlight. "Only time will tell if the movie will spark more challenges—but for now, the legacy of a book one 1982 reviewer called 'indelibly affecting' is secure," Blakemore writes. "To date, the book has sold over 5 million copies."

Opinion: Action needed to avoid local news setbacks like Pennsylvania sale

By Steven Waldman
President of Rebuild Local News and co-founder and president of Report for America

In announcing the sale of its Pennsylvania newspapers to Alden Global Capital last week, the Lynett family — which had owned the papers for 128 years — gave this heartbreaking statement:

“Most family newspaper sale announcements bear some variation of stock language regarding the new owner’s ability to ‘assume the families’ stewardship,’ ‘continue to provide strong local reporting,’ and ‘maintain the legacy’ of the selling family. Sadly, we feel that none of that will be true in our case.”

According to press accounts, the family members that were operating the papers didn’t want to sell to Alden but were outvoted by the other family members. Whatever the internal dynamics, it seems clear they would rather have had other options. Instead, the newspapers for Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Pottstown will now, almost certainly, become worse — and ultimately those cities might become news deserts.

We all love to complain about how Google and Facebook are killing local news. And they certainly have contributed to the problems. But what we have in Pennsylvania is cannibalism — one part of the local news industry eating another.

Until we face up to this problem, we’re not going save local news — and frankly won’t have much moral claim to do so.

While we are thrilled at the arrival of several hundred new startups, mostly nonprofit, there are 6,000 newspapers out there — many of which are small, family-owned papers that would rather not sell to Alden but are finding themselves with few choices.

Half of the daily newspaper circulation in America is now owned by hedge funds or private equity firms. Studies (and our own eyes) have shown that when financial firms like Alden buy local newspapers they cut local reporting staffs far more than family papers or nonprofits do.

Rebuild Local News called on the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to regulate acquisitions exactly like these. In its proposal it recounted the evidence:

A recent study by Michael Ewens, Arpit Gupta, and Sabrina T. Howell found that newspapers acquired by private equity firms were more likely to cut the number of reporters and the amount of local coverage. “The composition of news shifts away from local governance, the number of reporters and editors falls, and participation in local elections declines,” they concluded.

The number of reporters fell from 6.2 to 3.8 at newspapers that were acquired by a private equity firm. By comparison, for other types of newspapers, the number of reporters fell far more modestly, from 7.3 to 6.1. The number of editors at these papers fell from 9.1 to 6.1, compared to a drop of just 5.7 to 5.4 at other papers.

The number of articles about local government at newspapers acquired by private equity firms fell from 5,700 to 2,500 after an acquisition, “a significant negative effect.” For those newspapers not owned by private equity firms, the drop was smaller, from 5,200 to 4,400. They even found that these changes in coverage led to lower voting turnout and a greater percentage of residents having no opinion about their member of Congress.

By contrast, the study showed that family-owned newspapers were more likely to maintain higher levels of local news coverage and reporting staffs.

Another study by Benjamin LeBrun, Kaitlyn Todd and Andrew Piper looked at 130,000 articles at 31 corporate-owned local newspapers. They concluded that “corporate acquisition leads to a significant reduction in the amount of local news disseminated by affected publications.”

In Maine, Reade Brower faced a similar prospect as the family in Pennsylvania. He owned the largest collection of papers in the state. He wanted to keep the papers in local hands but needed to sell, and there was a real chance there’d be no other option besides Alden. In that case, a group of local civic leaders teamed up with a national organization working in this field, the National Trust for Local News, to acquire the papers.

How can we have more Maine outcomes and fewer Scranton outcomes?

We need a one-two punch of public policy and philanthropic creativity.

First, there needs to be a fund that can help ensure that local newspapers stay in local hands — and, if possible, that chain newspapers can get “replanted” back into communities.

Such a fund — probably set up by philanthropy — can provide low-interest loans or grants to local players to bid on the papers that are able to be saved (not all are; we need to be clear-eyed about that).

In other cases, such a fund could purchase papers itself as a short-term step with an eye toward replanting. That might be done through the National Trust for Local News (full disclosure: I’m a cofounder) or some other entity.

But this is not likely to work without government support. At Rebuild Local News we have proposed a four-part plan:

1) Provide tax incentives or grants for nonprofits or public benefit corporations that want to buy a newspaper to keep it locally controlled or owned
2) Provide tax incentives for newspaper owners wanting to sell their papers to such local entities
3) A requirement that before a newspaper can be sold to an out-of-town company, there must be a 120-day waiting period to help local buyers come up with a bid
4) Antitrust regulators need to start looking at cases in which hedge funds or private equity firms are acquiring newspapers

One could also argue that the longer-term fix is a different set of public policies that lift up the floor for the whole local news business. For instance, a refundable tax credit for news organizations to hire or retain reporters would help the whole ecosystem — as would a tax credit for small businesses that advertise with local news.

But we can’t keep celebrating the rise of a few dozen awesome new nonprofits while ignoring the community-by-community cannibalization of so many small newspapers.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Providing everyone with equal broadband access might not be possible

A housing development in Winnebago, Neb.
(Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz, The Wall Street Journal)

When it comes to getting all Americans equal broadband access, does “all” mean “everybody?” That depends on where a person lives.

“Nebraska’s Winnebago Tribe has long been stuck with sluggish internet service. The federal government plans to fix that by crisscrossing the reservation with fiber-optic cable—at an average cost of $53,000 for each household and workplace connected,” reports Ryan Tracy of The Wall Street Journal. The investment is more than the assessed value of some homes getting cable. “While most connections will cost far less, the expense to reach some remote communities has triggered concerns over the ultimate price tag for ensuring every rural home, business, school and workplace in America has the same internet that city dwellers enjoy.”

The Biden administration launched the "Internet for All" program with more than $60 billion earmarked for providing high-speed internet to rural places. But, funding is finite, and some states may have to decide how much is too much to pay for broadband access. "In Montana, laying fiber-optic cable to some remote locations could cost more than $300,000 per connection, said Misty Ann Giles, director of Montana’s Department of Administration," Tracy reports. "Building to those places would empty the state’s coffers, she said." Giles told him: “That’s when we might not reach everyone.”

States such as Kentucky are moving forward with broadband build-outs partially financed by federal dollars: "The broadband awards are the result of a 2021 agreement between lawmakers and the governor to use $300 million of federal pandemic relief funds to extend broadband service," reports Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. Gov. Andy Beshear said, "there are even 'bigger days to come' in the state’s broadband expansion work, pointing to a nearly $1.1 billion federal grant that the state secured this year." Beshear told AP: “We’re talking about access everywhere. It doesn’t mean universal access except where it’s difficult, or except where the terrain is tough. Our goal is high-speed internet to everyone. No exceptions.”

Nationally, at least "four active federal programs are funding fiber broadband projects, each with distinct rules," Tracy reports. "The Wall Street Journal reviewed these programs and found not only high-cost projects but also wide differences in how much taxpayers are paying for each new connection. . . . Some of the differences can be explained by the distinct geographic areas the programs are targeting. While the Federal Communications Commission program included some suburbs and excluded remote locations such as Alaska, the Commerce and Department of Agriculture programs targeted far-flung regions with difficult construction conditions. . . . Andy Berke, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service administrator, "Cited one project in Alaska that involves a 793-mile undersea fiber cable to reach remote villages." Berke told him: "These are some of the most challenging locations that there are to reach in America."

New silica-dust exposure limits aim to protect coal miners from black lung disease; data may not support that promise

The CDC encourages miners to get screened for black-lung
disease; the severest type is on the rise. (CDC graphic)
A proposed federal solution for preventing black-lung disease in coal miners may overlook thousands of deaths, and its regulation would not be enough to push mine operators to change tactics, report Howard Berkes of Public Health Watch and Justin Hicks of Louisville Public Media. "After decades of delay, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is finally getting serious about overexposure to silica in the nation’s mines," they write. "The agency is proposing a silica-dust exposure limit twice as tough as it is now. MSHA would also directly regulate excessive silica exposures, something it hasn’t previously done, making citations and fines possible for putting miners at risk."

Black lung "has been a known threat to coal miners for over a century — it’s taken the lives of tens of thousands of Americans since 1968. While black lung became less common through the 1990s, it’s on the rise again. Now, even middle-aged miners have been diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease," reports Allen Siegler of Mountain State Spotlight. "Severe black lung continues to disproportionately affect central Appalachia; from 2019 to mid-2023, nearly 30% of Americans diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis at federally-funded black lung clinics were West Virginians, according to the Black Lung Data and Resource Center at the University of Illinois. That trend is widely attributed to more frequent exposures to silica dust. . . . Grinding quartz creates silica dust, which is 20 times more toxic than coal dust alone."

How effective MSHA's proposed measures would be is uncertain. "An investigation by Public Health Watch, Louisville Public Media and Mountain State Spotlight shows that the plan’s purported benefits understate the silica risk to coal miners and the urgent need for immediate action," Berkes and Hicks report. 

Siegler reports, "Independent analyses of MSHA’s own coal-mine dust samples show its previous silica-dust exposure limits failed to adequately protect miners for decades. An investigation by NPR and PBS Frontline in 2018 analyzed MSHA’s data and found 21,000 instances of overexposure to silica dust since 1986. . . . While the proposed rule, in its current form, does require regular dust sampling, much of its effectiveness will depend on mining companies sampling their own mines and reporting it accurately and honestly."

With smart planning and community spirit, some rural places succeed in keeping their local grocery stores open

Royal Super Mart allows families stay in town to shop.
(Royal Super Mart courtesy photo via The Post)
Rural grocery stores have been closing because of fewer residents, larger competitors and labor shortages. And that leaves residents with longer drives for staples and another community gathering space shuttered. Some states and rural towns, such as South Dakota and Sheffield, Illinois, have saved their local grocery stores with collaboration, creativity and resourcefulness.

North Dakota’s Commerce Committee and legislature began studying the closing of its rural grocery stores in 2019. Their research revealed that “North Dakota lost 15% of its rural grocery stores in towns with fewer than 2,100 people between 2013 and 2019, reports Laura Simmons of High Plains Reader. The losses were “driven by declining populations, distribution costs. . . online sales and dollar stores, according to North Dakota Grocers Association President John Dyste. 'North Dakota is losing rural grocery stores at an alarming rate, causing consumers to travel greater distances to access healthy food choices such as fresh meat and produce. This especially affects the elderly and low-income members of these communities; they are in many cases left with few choices to purchase healthy foods.'”

Strategies to help alleviate these problems included "collaborative purchasing and a spoke-hub distribution system," Simmons explains. "Rural Access Distribution Cooperative implemented these ideas in Walsh County. Three grocery stores in Park River, Hoople and Edinburg order together through separate accounts from the same supplier. This supplier then drops off all the food at Jim’s Supervalu in Park River. RAD then transports Edinburg's and Hoople’s food to the correct store. This format helps increase volume, which decreases price."

Bata told Simmons, “The community has supported us overwhelmingly. I think that this is showing in the numbers. . . . Hoople Grocery saw a 23% increase in sales and Edinburg’s Market on Main saw a 16% increase in sales."

In Sheffield, Illinois, Royal Super Mart owner John Winger wanted to sell his store and retire, but he couldn't find a buyer, reports Sydney Page of The Washington Post. "Apart from his store, Royal Super Mart, the nearest full-service grocery store is 15 miles away from the tiny town of Sheffield, Ill., a farming village with a population of about 800 people." When Royal Super Mart opened in 1940, it was one of four local groceries in town.

Winger felt like closing the store would be abandoning his neighbors, especially residents without transportation. Page reports, "Then last summer, Elizabeth Pratt, who grew up in a nearby town and has lived in Sheffield for 12 years, approached Winger with an idea. She offered to raise money through her nonprofit, a local wellness center called Cornerstone Community Wellness, to buy the store, with the goal of transforming it into a sustainable social enterprise, which is a business that reinvests its profits into its mission. This would ensure people would not have to leave Sheffield to buy fresh food."

"In a matter of months, the community raised $500,000, which was enough for Cornerstone Community Wellness to purchase the property and overhaul the store. Roughly 125 individuals donated, and contributions ranged from $5 to $50,000. About 15 percent of donations came from grants and corporations," Page writes. "Sheffield residents who donated were aware of the role local grocery stores play in both community and economic development in areas such as Sheffield. They also saw how the loss of independent supermarkets hurt other small towns."

Helping to save the world might start with inviting bugs back; they've got a lot to offer

Praying mantes are farmers' little helper.
(Photo by Rosie Kerr, Unsplash)
Entomologists appreciate all sorts of insects, and in his opinion for The Washington Post, Dana Milbank encourages all humans to give bugs some love because they are vital to the food chain and human survival. He notes that when insects are allowed to be in their natural habitats, bugs that bite, bite less:

"Here, in the mountains, I walk the fields and putter about in the woods without wearing my usual Eau de DEET, and yet the mosquitoes do not feast. I sit on the porch at dusk, baring my arms to all comers — and not so much as a nibble. . . . It isn’t my imagination. Entomologists tell me this is part of a worldwide phenomenon. We’ve worked so hard to banish bugs from our lives—destroying their habitats with pavement and lawns, killing them with insecticides and stressing them with climate change—that our cities and suburbs are now insect wastelands but for a few hardy pest species, such as the disease-carrying mosquitoes that feed on the blood of people and pets.

"In the country, by contrast, the ecosystem is in better balance. There are actually more mosquitoes here, but a smaller proportion of them dine on human blood and carry disease. Competition with other insects keeps their numbers in check, and the other abundant species in the ecosystem — spiders, frogs, fish and bird—gobble up the mosquitoes. In other words, the problem isn’t that we have too many bugs in cities and suburbs; the problem is that we don’t have nearly enough."

The world, not just humans, needs insects to survive.
(Photo by Europeana, Unsplash)
Millbank writes, "Multiple studies show that the overall insect population is declining by one percent to two percent per year, which means losing perhaps a third of all insects on the planet within 20 years—moving us toward what’s often called an ‘insect apocalypse.’ . . . If this mass extinction of insects isn’t reversed, it will decimate the entire food chain, threaten crop pollination and generally cause havoc.

"Agricultural pesticides are a big problem, but there’s some evidence that we use even more insecticide per acre in cities and suburbs. In the sterile environment we’ve created, a few nasty species flourish, such as the tree-devouring spongy (formerly gypsy) moth, the crop-destroying spotted lanternfly, the domestic cockroach, the bloodsucking mosquito. . . . Luckily, the insect apocalypse is relatively easy to reverse compared with other anthropomorphic disasters. And unlike climate change, you can quickly make a noticeable improvement in your backyard, or even on your apartment balcony. You simply need to invite bugs back into your life. They’ll quickly accept. As a bonus, you’ll also wind up with more songbirds — and you just might save the planet."

For the love of insects: Here are the four smartest

Mother Nature is no respecter of human superiority. She has given animals languages we don’t understand, gifts people cannot learn and “thinking caps” that don’t look or think like ours. Insects are no exception to the creative ways and means nature divinely equips creation. Here are the four smartest, recounts Claire Hamlett of Sentient Media.
Honey bee delights in pollen.
(Shutterstock photo)
Bees are smart and clever dancers.
“A study published in 2022, showed for the first time that bumblebees can make trade-off decisions, choosing between enduring discomfort for a reward of a solution with high sugar content or no discomfort and a solution with lower sugar content. . . . Honeybees can do basic arithmetic, which has upended the assumption that a large brain is required to do math. They communicate complex information to each other, like where to find the best source of food to bring back to the hive, by using symbolic movements to indicate distance and direction.”
Ants carrying lunch.
(Photo by J. Lazono, Unsplash)

Ants: They can do more than lift over ten times their weight
. “Not only are ants great at the complex task of foraging and finding their way home with their bounty, but they also engage in agricultural activities that show humans are far from unique in being able to cultivate their own food sources. . . . In 2020, another accidental discovery was made about farmer ants when a photographer happened upon brown ants farming giant oak aphids that live on English oak trees. The ants build barns for the aphids out of mosses, lichens, and beetle shells on the tree trunks, and will move them to underground shelters to protect them from bad weather. All this is so the ants can ‘milk’ the aphids for their honeydew.”

Cockroaches can be learners.
(Photo by E. Karits, Unsplash)
Cockroaches--of course, this human nemesis makes the list
. “In the Netflix prison drama, "Orange is the New Black," a cockroach named "Yoda," is trained as a courier by inmates and is shown carrying a cigarette between cells. While this scenario might seem a bit far-fetched, it’s certainly not impossible. Cockroaches are not only capable of learning and remembering positive or negative associations with different smells, but they also demonstrate individuality in doing so. Indeed, one study showed that individual cockroaches may be shy or bold, with some much more willing to spend time exploring the kinds of brightly lit environments to which they are averse.”
Female paper wasps fight each other.
(Photo by Tom Sid, Unsplash)

Paper wasps engage in politics and have their own Fight Club.
“Paper wasps can recognize individual wasp faces, a cognitive skill that comes in handy given that a nest can have multiple queens who need to negotiate with one another. The dominant queen will lay the most eggs, leaving subordinate queens to decide whether to stay or leave and establish their own smaller nests, which will be more susceptible to attack or failure. In order to determine the dominant queen, paper wasps fight each other. Facial recognition means they know who they’ve fought and whether or not they were beaten, maintaining a more harmonious nest."

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Drought-stricken lands leave farmers and ranchers to plow under crops and sell off herds

Drought conditions have forced farmers to plow existing crops under.
(Photo by Richard Bell, Unsplash)
Summer’s drought has hit farmers and cattle ranchers hard, leaving them to destroy drying crops and orchard trees and sell off livestock, reports Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN Business. “Nearly three-quarters of U.S. farmers say this year’s drought is hurting their harvest–with significant crop and income loss, according to a new survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a lobbying group that represents agricultural interests. . . . Thirty-seven percent of farmers said they are plowing through and killing existing crops that won’t reach maturity because of dry conditions." According to the survey, that’s a jump from 24% last year.

Zippy Duvall, AFBF president, told Yurkevich, "The effects of this drought will be felt for years to come, not just by farmers and ranchers but also by consumers. Many farmers have had to make the devastating decision to sell off livestock they have spent years raising or destroy orchard trees that have grown for decades." Yurkevich reports, "July was the third-hottest on record for the U.S., and ranked in the top 10 for every state in the West except for Montana, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.”

Cattle ranchers in states such as Texas face hurdles beyond drought-induced herd water shortages. "High inflation makes it harder for ranchers to salvage their land. The cost of diesel is falling but is still high, making it significantly more expensive to truck in additional water than in years past," Yurkevich writes. "The price of fertilizer for grass and crops and feed for animals also remains expensive." David Anderson, a professor of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M, told Yurkevich: "We haven’t had this kind of movement of cows to market in a decade, since 2011, which was our last really big drought."

U.S. consumers will likely see across-the-board price increases for produce. "Fruits, nuts, and vegetables overwhelmingly come from states with high levels of drought," Yurkevich adds. "But farmers have been forced to forgo planting or destroy orchards. This will 'will likely result in American consumers paying more for these goods and either partially relying on foreign supplies or shrinking the diversity of items they buy at the store,' the report states. . . . The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s August inflation report shows U.S. consumers are spending 9.3% more on fruits and vegetables from a year ago."

Opinion: America needs hunting but its popularity is falling

Photo by Raymond McCrea Jones, Redux via The Atlantic

Humans, the land and animals benefit from responsible hunting, but the practice has declined in popularity, with more Americans opposing it, writes Andrew Exum in his opinion for The Atlantic. “Public approval for all forms of hunting has declined in just the past two years, according to a new study by the Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation. More Americans disapprove of hunting today than they have at any point over the past two decades. And that’s a problem because America needs hunting more than most Americans realize.”

Why the change? “Americans favor hunting some species more than others. Americans are just fine with people hunting deer, for example, which are a menace in most northeastern suburbs and the cause of 2 million car accidents each year,” Exum writes. “They are less fine with people hunting bears and wolves. . . . As more Americans associate firearms with mass shootings and other violence, fewer Americans approve of any firearms-related activities, including hunting and sport shooting. . . . And this year’s survey registers a sharp increase of Americans who disapprove of all legal recreational shooting, including the kind of shotgun games you might see at the Olympics."

A decrease in hunters alters conservation efforts. “Even as approval for hunting declines, though, hunting remains an important part of the conservation model that has served America so well for more than 100 years. . . . [We] now rely on hunters to help manage wildlife populations under strict government regulation. . . It’s also ironic that many left-leaning Americans can be so ambivalent about some of the longest-running, most successful, and scientifically grounded government programs,” Exum reports. 

“Red-state conservatives. . . are silent about the fact that although conservation remains one of the few truly bipartisan issues. . . .They are likewise silent about decisions from the conservative judiciary that endanger wildlife habitat," Exum adds. “You very rarely hear Democrats talk about how hunting plays a role in the party’s conservation goals—even though that might help bridge some of the gap that now exists between a largely urban Democratic Party and the kind of rural voters necessary for it to maintain control of the Senate.”

“We tell our neighbors in our extremely left-leaning D.C. neighborhood that I hunt for the same reason we grow many of our own fruits and vegetables: We like being connected to our food chain, without supermarkets as intermediaries, and we like to consume our food in as conscientious and sustainable a way as possible,” Exum writes. 

Proposal for more nursing-home staff seen as unattainable by many owners; resident advocates say it's not enough

Nursing homes may not be ready for 'tsunami' of baby boomers.
(Photo by G.A. Pflueger, Unsplash)

Nursing homes have struggled for decades to find a sustainable business model that provides optimal staffing numbers for resident care. Now federal officials have released "a proposed rule requiring the nation’s nursing homes to hire minimum numbers of front-line caregivers, a long-anticipated response to decades of complaints about neglect and abuse in an industry that critics say is unprepared for the tsunami of seniors heading its way from the baby boom," reports Christopher Rowland of The Washinton Post.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed "minimum nurse staffing standards . . . per resident for registered nurses and . . . nurse aides," as well as a requirement to have a registered nurse at the nursing home around the clock. Many industry stakeholders consider the proposal futile. Rowland explains, "Without a supply of prospective workers, it will be impossible to meet the requirements of minimum staffing, the industry has argued. They also contend that Medicaid reimbursement rates need to be significantly increased if more workers are required in facilities." Nathan Schema, president and chief executive officer of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, which operates a large chain of nonprofit nursing homes, told Rowland: "I just can’t understand how CMS is effectively trying to fix the roof while the house is on fire. It’s the beginning of the end for small-town nursing homes."

Rowland adds, "A fifth of nursing homes would have to hire registered nurses to meet the requirement, the government estimates." LeadingAge, the largest association for nonprofit nursing homes, told USA Today that the proposed regulation would be impossible for many nursing homes to meet. “There are simply no people to hire—especially nurses,” said Katie Smith Sloan, the group's president and CEO. “America’s under-funded, long-ignored long-term care sector is in a workforce crisis.” Sloan said nursing homes would have to “reduce admissions or even close” if the rule takes effect.

"While the industry reacted negatively to the proposed rule’s release, the guidelines also disappointed advocates for better treatment of residents in chronically short-staffed nursing homes, who contend the rule does not go far enough and enshrines substandard levels of care," Rowland reports. "Advocates for better quality care in nursing homes say the industry’s high staff turnover rates point to the true problem: insufficient pay and poor working conditions."

Farm net income could drop for the first time in five years; amount is still much higher than 10-year average

This year's farming net income decrease was expected.
(Photo by Gregory Hayes, Unsplash)
U.S. net farm income is expected to decrease for the first time in five years, but 2023 income is still above the country's 10-year average. "National net farm income will fall nearly 23% in 2023, coming down from a record high in 2022," reports Chris Clayton of Progressive Farmer. Net farm income, defined by Department of Agriculture as "a broad measure of profits," has risen each of the past five years, "but will come down $41.7 billion in 2023 to $141.3 billion in 2023. That's a 22.8% decline from 2022's record of $183 billion" but still higher than the 10-year average of about $101 billion.

The decrease in net income was expected. "Strong global demand plus the supply chain disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up commodity prices in 2022," reports Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming. "The value of U.S. crop and livestock sales leaped by $100 billion, to a record $536.6 billion, said USDA economist Carrie Litkowski. The cash receipts figure was expected to drop to $513.6 billion this year." Joe Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, told Abbott, “2022 was a remarkable year, so it’s not a surprise that income declined this year.”

Production prices and farm equity values have increased alongside farm net income. "Production expenses are up for the fifth year in a row, setting another record high at $458 billion, said the USDA. Yet, farm sector equity would increase by nearly 8% this year; assets are growing in value much more rapidly than farmers accumulate debt," Abbott reports. "Farm groups have pointed to rising production costs as a reason for Congress to make it easier in the new farm bill to trigger crop subsidy payments and to expand the taxpayer-supported crop insurance programs. The budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense called for retrenchment — the government will lose $16.3 billion on crop insurance this year, it said, despite high farm income."

Pat Westhoff, director of the Food & Agriculture Policy Research Institute, at the University of Missouri, told Abbott, "Yeah, it’s a complicated story. It’s equally true that the 2023 farm income figure is off sharply from 2022, and that it’s still a very high number by historical standards. Different people would want to emphasize one of those stories or the other.”

The USDA farm income forecast is available here.