We Need a Rural New Deal
COVID-19 is a combined health and economic crisis poised to further devastate rural communities already suffering severe economic stress. Already, rural health care systems are strained by the outbreak, and workers across the country are facing increasing precarity as the crisis unfolds.
The COVID-19 outbreak exposes an already uneven geography of development. Large swaths of rural America had already been left behind by our last economic recovery: 86 percent of U.S. counties that are in persistent poverty are rural. While the overall population living in distressed zip codes has declined since 2007, it has increased in rural areas. This “ruralization of distress” has taken a tremendous human toll. Rural counties have higher rates of premature death, with one in five getting worse. Rural residents also incur higher healthcare costs, and nonwhite rural residents face even greater health disparities.
As we move into our new reality with the COVID-19 pandemic and its rippling economic effects, these disparities are on track to become even more stark. Clearly, we need new approaches to economic development to reverse these longstanding trends.
Fortunately, there is already a wide body of literature to draw from on rural revitalization.