July 15, 2009

Rural what now?

Rural economic development......

I came across an interesting article in BusinessWeek today that discussed former President (and Governor of Arkansas, a predominantly rural state) Bill Clinton's observation that little is done to help rural regions economically. I am actually doing an internship in a small town in a predominantly rural area in North Carolina and my observations have led to me to believe that Clinton is absolutely right in his view. The greatest poverty in America can be found in rural areas, where the labor force is often uneducated and unable to adapt to the rapid change from an industrial to a service economy. These people are often left unable to find work because of their lack of a formal education or if they can find work relegated to lower level service jobs that only pay minimum wage. After all, you can't work in an office if your highest level of education is 10th grade.

For many people it isn't economically feasible to return to school. After all, if you have a family to support working at Wal-Mart at least provides an income for your family. However, even 10 years ago, well-paying jobs would be relatively easy to come by. I know that my state (North Carolina) has been hard hit by the exodus of the textile industry, long a provider of well-paying jobs that require little education.

There are many jobs out there that could suit the needs of rural America. Clinton pointed out a basic means of creating jobs, investing in green energy. A solid investment in green energy requires almost an entire rebuilding of our energy infrastructure. Who better to do that than the predominantly blue collar labor force that exists in rural America?

We need to address poverty and unemployment in America. What better way to do it than to address the root of the problem? Will we continue our inadequate response to rural poverty? I hope not because like our former President said, to do so would be extremely ill-advised.

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