Urban vs. Rural. The Divide Is Real.

Urban vs. Rural. The divide is real.

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week titled, The Divide Between America's Prosperous Cities and Struggling Small Towns---in 20 Charts. And it's well worth a look from North Carolina law makers.

Through charts and graphs, the Journal paints a picture of a rural America falling behind. This does not mean that the experiences of our rural citizens can be laid at the door of our cities. Urbanites are not laying plans to cause harm to their country cousins. The times, they are a-changing, however, and we need to see and understand what is happening.

The overall population in rural areas is shrinking. Birth rates are declining as youth who leave to attend college never return to live in their home town. Childbirth rates for teen girls are still higher in rural areas than urban areas, but overall, more teen girls are foregoing childbirth in favor of attending and graduating from college. Those girls who do remain in small town America tend to marry young, making them more likely to experience divorce (and subsequent poverty). And rural poverty rates are higher than urban poverty rates.

Housing prices in urban areas have greatly recovered from losses caused by the 2008 recession, but rural home prices have not. As homes are the biggest investment most Americans make, this creates a wealth gap as rural net worth has remained low. Fewer families are moving to the country, leaving little demand for rural residences. Crime rates in cities have fallen dramatically, and parents don't feel that keeping their children safe requires a move to the country.

Lower home prices mean lower property tax rates for county revenue. This leaves rural school systems struggling. And a high school degree is not enough anymore. Jobs that pay well and offer full benefits now require education or training beyond the high school level. Those businesses that might employ people in rural areas are shrinking and a lack of capital makes bank loans for those seeking to start a rural business hard to come by. In some rural areas, even a bank is hard to come by.

Immigrants bring with them a new energy and many eventually start their own businesses. But when seeking work, they go to cities where more jobs are available and they are more likely to find others who share their culture. This creates a culture gap between city and country, with rural residents less likely to have opportunities for personal interaction with people who are Not Like Them.

Rural men tend to be older and are often beset with disabilities acquired from physically demanding work, such as farming or mining. Rural areas see higher rates of disabilities and physical and mental illnesses. Depression, suicide, diabetes, poor maternal health care, cancer, heart disease, all plague our rural citizens. Fewer hospitals, doctors, and mental health care specialists are available to diagnose and treat these residents.

All of these things contribute to harm the health and well-being of rural Americans. None of these issues were caused by cities.

Can government help?
There are those who believe it should not. That it is not the role of government to help citizens in distress.
What does NCGA leadership think government should do in such circumstances?