Rural Poverty: Almost Forgotten

I will be the first to admit that I’d forgotten about rural poverty. Never during my recent rants did I think outside of urban communities.

But how many of us do?

We can chalk our collective negligence up to a few reasons:
1. urban areas have more voices. in these areas the victims are generally minorities. minorities overall are more likely to feel a sense of community because of centuries of oppression, and thus feel more compelled to help other “community members.”
2. rural areas are generally out of sight, and so out of mind.
3. finally, simply because there has always been more poverty in smaller towns. Cities began as a center of commerce and soon those who were wealthier moved to suburban communities so, as to put it nicely, avoid crime thereby leaving an influx of uneducated immigrants and freed slaves who could not possibly pump as much money into the city as the citizens who had just left.
**A little history lesson for you, courtesy of a few teachers and professors who deviated from the textbook.

And so, as a self-proclaimed activist-in-training, imagine my shock and slight shame when, while attending Tavis Smiley’s latest symposium, I was forced to recognize how I have aided in the collective disregard for rural poverty.

Smiley’s latest symposium, entitled Made Visible, focused on disproportionate rates of poverty in women and children. According to Smiley, women, regardless of race or ethnicity are 29% more likely to be poorer than men. Additionally, in just one year (2009-2010) one million children fell into poverty. Very sobering statistics.

All of the panelists, all of whom were from different backgrounds, contributed significantly.  Yet I found myself drawn to Cecilia Firethunder, the former president of the Oglala Sioux tribe and the first woman ever elected to this position. And it was for many more reasons than easily having the coolest name ever.

If I’d forgotten about rural poverty it definitely hadn’t crossed my mind that Native Americans were part of this population. Say what you will but it is easily argued that more of us wake up thinking about urban poverty rather than its rural counterpart (refer to number 2: out of sight, out of mind).

She spoke about the poverty she regularly sees on her reservation. This prompted me to ask my professor, a sociologist, “Which is worse? Rural poverty or urban poverty?”

I’ll bet many of you who are reading this are scoffing. “You can’t just ask that, Tianna! It’s complicated!”

And you’re right. It’s incredibly complicated because poverty is more than wealth or lack thereof. It is stigma, anger, despair, embarrassment, and due to a faulty system of meritocracy, it is hopelessness. Suze Orman once said, “There is a highway into poverty and not even a sidewalk out!”

But my professor, cool guy that he is, gave it some thought and responded that while urban poverty is more concentrated, rural poverty may be worse in regards to a lower income but also the implications of living in a rural area with limited means. He pointed out that in the city, we have more access. This includes to emergency care, police, and the fire department among other things. don’t forget that when you live in a larger city the population tends to be more diverse and so youths may be more accepting of people who are outside their own demographics.

However, in rural areas, where there is less access, this poverty can be HARDER.

I believe that most of us, even if we are not products of an impoverished urban community, tend to first think of inner cities when we think of poverty. This is for a number of reasons. I have listed 3. However, it is absolutely imperative we are able to understand all of what poverty entails, who is likely to become its next victim, and where it can be found lurking.

Otherwise you’ll end up like me, railing against something you only half understand. If knowledge is half the battle, I guess I was 25% there.

I strongly urge those of you reading this to look out for the Made Visible symposium, which PBS will be airing for three days starting March 28th.

Also check out rural poverty and even global poverty. Although it is absolutely terrible that such a rich nation has a 15.1% poverty rate and almost one in two Americans are either in poverty or close to the threshold, this pales in comparison to countless other nations where almost 60% of the population live in poverty.

If you’d like more information visit Global Issues for insight into other statistics, such as education/literacy and youth health that arise from poverty.

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Categories: Article, Editorial


I absolutely love to write! I am a Journalism and Political-Science Dual-Degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. I hope to inspire all of my readers to better their own lives and to be proactive in their communities. There is nothing more important, or more rewarding, than giving back!


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