Look & See – Rural America

I’ve written a number of harsh posts about those living in rural America, mostly based off the perception that is pushed by the Republican party, that is, rural Americans don’t understand, and resent urban Americans. That rural Americans are the god-fearing, backbone of America and urban and city dwellers are welfare dependents, and worse still, socialists. Certainly, the Republican party continue to push this agenda today, dividing sub-urban and rural communities from the cities.

As shown here, rural Americans claiming benefits has sky rocketed between ’96 and 2015; increasingly, the programs getting cut, adversely hit rural America harder, as rural Americans are smaller in total number; medical coverage may not “be a right” according to the Republican party, it should be a “choice”, try maintaining a community without easy access to modern healthcare; schools are also a right, without them, not only are local taxes higher, more subsidy is needed to get kids to schools outside the city. School Choice won’t save rural schools without a massive rethink.

However, rural Americans, and farmers especially, deserve another perspective. They’ve largely been screwed by the “agricultural industrial machine”. Sure, many farmers have sold out and reaped substantial profits, more though are barely getting by. There is a lot to be said about a community completely upended over the last 30-years.

Laura Dunn, Two Birds Film (Austin TX) has produced a beautifully filmed, subtle, but brilliantly edited, and panoramic, poignant portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the eye of American novelist, poet, and activist, Wendell Berry.

Berry represents, if not the best known defender of rural, natural America, then certainly the most eloquent. His contributions to Lauras’ other major work, The Unforseen, were the first I’d heard of him. Certainly, this profile certainly made me think again. You can watch the trailer on youtube(below) or the complete film on Netflix.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

2 thoughts on “Look & See – Rural America”

  1. Mark,
    Your article inspired me to do some research into the similiaries that farming has today with the 1930’s – in this country. Here is a wonderful table that puts things into perspective:

    Table 1
    The Great Depression vs Great Recession in the advanced countries

    Real GDP Price level Unemployment (%) Trade volume
    1929 100.0 100.0 7.2 100.0
    1930 95.2 90.8 14.1 94.8
    1931 89.2 79.9 22.8 89.5
    1932 83.3 73.1 31.4 76.5
    1933 84.3 71.7 29.8 78.4
    1934 89.0 75.3 23.9 79.6
    1935 94.0 77.6 21.9 81.8
    1936 100.6 81.4 18.0 85.7
    1937 105.3 91.5 14.3 97.4
    1938 105.4 90.4 16.5 87.0

    2007 100.0 100.0 5.4 100.0
    2008 100.5 102.0 5.8 100.6
    2009 97.3 102.9 8.0 85.0
    2010 99.6 103.7 8.4 93.3
    Sources: 1929–38: Real GDP: Maddison (2010) western European countries plus western offshoots; Price level: League of Nations (1941); data are for wholesale prices, weighted average of 17 countries; Unemployment: Eichengreen and Hatton (1987); data are for industrial unemployment, weighted average of 11 countries; Trade volume: Maddison (1985), weighted average of 16 countries.

    2007–2010: IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2010.

    I am looking forward to watching the film you have recommended, on Netflix, this weekend. As always, great work Mark.

    D’Arcy

    1. thanks for the feedback D’Arcy. Always enjoy hearing from you.

      I went looking for some comparison numbers, I have not verified them with other sources, but they seem to resonate with the decline in rural America.
      1920 Total population: 105,710,620; farm population: 31,614,269; farmers 27% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,454,000; average acres: 148
      1930 Total population: 122,775,046; farm population: 30,455,350; farmers 21% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,295,000; average acres: 157
      1940 Total population: 131,820,000; farm population: 30,840,000; farmers 18% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,102,000; average acres: 175

      many rural workers moved in the following years to help with the war effort in cities and factories. They never went back.
      1950 Total population: 151,132,000; farm population: 25,058,000; farmers 12.2% of labor force; Number of farms: 5,388,000; average acres: 216
      1960 Total population: 180,007,000; farm population: 15,635,000; farmers 8.3% of labor force; Number of farms: 3,711,000; average acres: 303
      1970 Total population: 204,335,000; farm population: 9,712,000; farmers 4.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2.780, 000; average acres: 390
      1980 Total population: 227,020,000; farm population: 6,051,000; farmers 3.4% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,439,510; average acres: 426
      1990 Total population: 261,423,000; farm population: 2,987,552; farmers 2.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,143,150; average acres: 461

      I have not had time to trawl through all the most recent data, but back in 2012, farmers were down to 1.5% https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USAPEMANA

      The reality of this is exactly what you see, rural decline. The number of businesses to support 12% of the population who were farming was significant, now the number of farmers is approaching insignificant, there is little profit in supporting them.

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