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Rural News

Renewing the Middle Class by Revitalizing Middle America

Center for Opportunity Urbanism | Posted on May 25, 2017

The greatest test America faces is whether it can foster the kind of growth that benefits and expands the middle class. To do so, the United States will need to meet three challenges: recover from the Great Recession, rebalance the American and international economies, and gain access to the global middle class for the future of American goods and services. The fulcrum for meeting these challenges is the combination of industries and resources concentrated in the New American Heartland, the center of the country’s productive economy. Traditionally, the Heartland has been defined as the agriculturally and industrially strong Midwest, alone or perhaps together with the Upper Plains. However, the geographic distribution of US manufacturing and energy extraction has expanded through the growth of new manufacturing zones, largely in Texas, the South and the Gulf Coast. Our map of the New American Heartland includes not only the Midwest and Upper Plains, but portions of all the Gulf States — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida — and the non-coastal southern states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Changes to Visa Program Put Foreign-Born Doctors in Limbo

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on May 25, 2017

Just a few months ago, the future appeared promising and certain for Dr. Sunil Sreekumar Nair. A citizen of the United Kingdom, he was completing his residency in internal medicine at a Brooklyn hospital, and he had accepted a job in a hospital near Fort Smith, Arkansas, a rural area with a severe shortage of doctors.Then the Trump administration announced that it was suspending the 15-day expedited process to obtain an H-1B visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign-born workers in specialty fields such as medicine and information technology. Now Nair may not receive his new visa for at least eight months, long after he is supposed to show up for his new job in Arkansas.The Arkansas hospital has offered to keep the job open for him, but Nair isn’t even sure he’ll be able to stay in the country after his original visa expires with the end of his medical residency next month.“To say I am frustrated would be an extreme understatement,” Nair said last week.In addition to suspending the expedited application process, President Donald Trump in April ordered a review of the entire H-1B program.For parts of the country that have difficulty attracting American-born doctors, the uncertainty swirling around the H-1B program is already creating problems, with doctors tied up in legal uncertainty rather than treating patients.“For us, this has been a very positive program that has brought health care to areas of Wisconsin that would otherwise go without,” said Lisa Boero, legal counsel for the immigration program at the Marshfield Clinic Health System, which operates more than 50 clinics through largely rural central and northern Wisconsin, areas with a shortage of doctors.Hospitals in distressed urban neighborhoods also rely on foreign-born medical school graduates to fill medical residencies that might otherwise go vacant.

Maine’s highest court rules ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional

Portland Press Herald | Posted on May 25, 2017

Maine’s highest court concluded Tuesday that the nation’s first statewide ranked-choice voting system violates the Maine Constitution even though it was approved by the state’s voters in a referendum in November. In a unanimous advisory opinion, the seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged the validity of citizen-initiative ballot questions but noted that even citizen-enacted laws can be unconstitutional. The court opinion itself doesn’t negate ranked-choice voting, which was supported by 52 percent of Mainers who cast ballots last fall. The justices instead spelled out the Legislature’s options, noting that lawmakers can now vote to repeal the measure or to initiate the process that leads to a constitutional amendment to allow for ranked-choice voting.

Monarch butterfles: The problem with herbicides

Michigan State University | Posted on May 25, 2017

Monarch butterfly populations are shrinking. New research makes a strong case that the reasons for this decline go far beyond what's happening on the wintering grounds and addresses a current controversy about the primary causes of the specie's decline.Unlike other migratory species, which have distinct summer and winter grounds, monarchs take multiple generations to travel from Mexico to Texas, from Texas to the Midwest, from the Midwest and into Canada, and finally, back from the upper Midwest and Canada to Mexico.The team's research could generate answers that eventually help reverse the nearly 20-year decline of monarch butterflies observed in Mexico. It gives hope to anyone, scientists and the public alike, who has ever witnessed the mass of overwintering butterflies in Mexico or cheered a flitting monarch as it traverses vast distances across the United States.

An Oregon rancher is charged for an elk slaughter.

High Country News | Posted on May 25, 2017

Larry Harshfield was arrested and charged with 12 counts of unlawful take of elk in a closed season, and 12 counts of waste of elk. In a press release, Pam Harshfield maintains that the couple had no choice. The harsh winter brought hordes of hungry elk to their haysheds. The elk ate hay intended for their cattle, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t help out, she said in a statement, leaving them out of options. The crime, investigation and impending trial have revealed tensions over Oregon’s elk management and over land management. For the last 40 years, the Harshfields have run cattle and grown hay on their 450-acre spread, located just outside Wallowa, a burg of 800 people nestled between the granite mountains of the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the grasslands of the Zumwalt Prairie. In years past, elk and other wild game were rarely a problem, as hunters kept populations in check. Over the past few decades, however, elk populations in Oregon have ballooned. In the area where the Harshfields live, ODFW says this is due to landowners limiting hunting access on private land. In a written statement, Pam Harshfield, who did not admit to their involvement with the slaughter, explained they became frustrated with that increase. Twenty years ago, a small herd of 15 to 20 elk began visiting their ranch. The herd grew over the years, reaching around 200 this last winter by the Harshfields’ estimates. But by then, the elk were eating directly from their haysheds. Unlike in neighboring states like Washington and Idaho, in Oregon private property owners are not compensated for losses incurred by elk. ODFW will give property owners alfalfa seed, fencing and netting to keep elk away.They also offer mitigation tactics like hazing permits, emergency hunt tags and kill permits to private property owners. The kill permits require the owner dress and deliver the meat so it can be distributed to needy families. The Harshfields, who have a hazing permit, turned down a kill permit because it was too time consuming, according to Pam Harshfield’s statement.

A Road Trip Through Rusting and Rising America

New York Times | Posted on May 24, 2017

I just took a four-day car trip through the heart of that landscape — driving from Austin, Ind., down through Louisville, Ky., winding through Appalachia and ending up at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to try to answer that question.Trump is half right in his diagnosis, but his prescription is 100 percent wrong. We do have an epidemic of failing communities. But we also have a bounty of thriving ones — not because of a strongman in Washington but because of strong leaders at the local level.Indeed, this notion that America is a nation divided between two coasts that are supposedly thriving, pluralizing and globalizing and a vast flyover interior, where jobs have disappeared, drug addiction is rife and everyone is hoping Trump can bring back the 1950s, is highly inaccurate.The big divide in America is not between the coasts and the interior. It’s between strong communities and weak communities. You can find weak ones along the coast and thriving ones in Appalachia, and vice versa. It’s community, stupid — not geography.

The New American Heartland: Renewing the Middle Class by Revitalizing Middle America

Center for Opportunity Urbanism | Posted on May 24, 2017

Manufacturing never employed most American workers. Service and manufacturing employment rose in parallel as agricultural employment declined, until manufacturing employment peaked in the 1950s at 30 percent of the workforce and began its gradual decline. By 2010 nearly 80 percent of Americans worked in the service sector.   Almost four out of ten of all ears of corn (maize) grown on earth originate in the watershed of the Mississippi River, which is also the source of most US grain, cotton, sorghum, soy, livestock and poultry. Ninety-two percent of US agricultural exports, and 78 percent of global feed, grain, and soybean exports are from the Mississippi Basin. Sixty percent of all US grain exports travel via the Mississippi through the Heartland Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana to foreign markets. The New American Heartland contains the greatest concentration of shale gas and tight oil reserves in the continental United States, and, unlike coastal states such as California and New York, the Heartland has embraced the opportunities for American-produced energy. Despite the recent decline in energy prices, demand is likely to rise as China and other developing countries increase automobile use and seek to replace coal with cleaner natural gas.

FCC votes to begin dismantling net nuetrality

Live Science | Posted on May 24, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission voted to start dismantling 2015 rules that regulated internet service providers the same way as utilities. So what does that mean for your internet access? The answer to that question will take months to hash out.   The debate swirls around two related issues: whether the internet is a public utility, and how (or if) to ensure a concept known as net neutrality. Net neutrality is the framework for an internet in which all data is treated equally. For example, a provider such as Comcast can't throttle back Netflix's streaming speeds because Netflix's video content competes with its cable offerings. Nor can a company block legal websites or apps, or require them to pay extra for a broadband boost. The net-neutrality debate is perhaps the biggest internet argument of all, and it's been going on since the late 1990s. In 1996, Congress passed the Telecom Act, leading the FCC to classify cable broadband providers as "information services" rather than "telecommunications services," which would have been subject to stricter regulation. The FCC did, however, want to do some regulating. In 2010, it passed the Open Internet Order, which prohibited ISPs from blocking, throttling or offering paid prioritization. Blocking is cutting off access to legal websites, devices or apps; throttling is degrading the service to certain devices, websites or apps so as to render them unusable; and paid prioritization is offering sites, apps or device-makers the opportunity to pay for a speed boost for their traffic

Rural Manufacturing Resilience: Factors Associated With Plant Survival, 1996-2011

USDA | Posted on May 23, 2017

The ERS Rural Manufacturing Survey is linked to employment records to examine the relationship between survival and plant- and community-level factors from 1996 to 2011.

Problems of rural Georgia easy to find, difficult to fix

Atlanta Journal Constitution | Posted on May 23, 2017

Whether it is the promise of industry that never materializes, the loss of existing factories and plants, or any of a number of other reasons, many of Georgia’s rural communities are suffering. The newest effort from state government to identify the challenges facing rural Georgia, and potential solutions, gets under way. The House Rural Development Council will have its first meeting. Its stated goal: “Work with rural communities to find ways to encourage economic growth.”in 2014, rural counties had just 22 percent of the state’s jobs, according to a landmark 2016 Georgia State University study called “Jobs in Georgia’s Urban and Rural Regions and Counties: Changes in Distribution, Type, and Quality from 2007 to 2014.”In it, authors Peter Bluestone and Mels de Zeeuw found that the Atlanta region and the state’s 13 “hub cities” saw 90 percent of all job growth from 2007 to 2014.The reasons are many. But a key is that urban areas were able to absorb the historical loss of manufacturing jobs by creating new service-industry positions. Rural Georgia simply lost jobs and never got them back. The state’s decision not to expand Medicaid precipitated the loss of rural hospitals, Bluestone said. The state has seen eight hospitals close in the past few years. All were in rural areas. The lack of broadband internet access is another.Automation and technology have killed manufacturing jobs as much as outsourcing and trade agreements have. Manufacturing output in the United States is actually higher than it was. There just aren’t as many humans needed to do it.By some accounts, the lack of jobs is not the problem. It’s the lack of trained and educated workers in some cases, Bluestone said.