Monday, September 26, 2016

Rural women in India pursuing urban dreams

Ellen Barry reported yesterday in the New York Times on a specific type of rural-to-urban migration in India--that of young women moving to mega cities for jobs in manufacturing.  In doing so, they move away from village life, which is very protective of young women and girls.

Here's an excerpt from this beautifully written feature, which begins with the girls entering a factory floor where garments are being sewn for Marks & Spencer:
The new girls smell of the village. ... The tailors glance up for only a moment, long enough to take in an experiment. The new workers — teenagers, most of them — have been recruited from remote villages to help factories like this one meet the global demand for cheap garments. But there is also social engineering going on.
Barry goes on to explain the motivation behind that social engineering:  India's gross domestic product would increase 27% if female employment were on par with male employment.  According to a 2012 survey, 205 million Indian women aged 15-16 "attend[] to domestic work."   Economists say that will have to change if India is to realize its potential.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Penthouse Populist" in U.S. News & World Report re Trump's appeal to the rural poor

Joe Williams reports this week in U.S. News & World Report under the headline, "Penthouse Populist:  Why the rural poor love Donald Trump."  Williams explores and tries to explain why the rural poor are attracted to Trump--or, just as tellingly or saliently--why they do not care for Hillary Clinton:
Drive an hour or two outside of any major U.S. city, however – Washington, D.C., for example – and campaign signs for Trump dominate the countryside: nestled in soybean fields and thick woods; beside two-lane highways and shotgun houses.

Support for Clinton is hard to find, if it exists at all.

"I guess I want to say it's not terribly surprising," says Lisa Pruitt, a faculty member at the Center for Poverty Research at the University California-Davis. "I would say it's not terribly unusual."

That's because, despite a strong grasp on rural poverty issues and more than a decade in the Ozarks, Clinton is an intellectual Democratic politician – anathema to God-fearing, gun-loving people in places like the Central Plains or down-east Maine. Voters in the American hinterlands don't much like where her party stands on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, civil rights and abortion, and believe she's among the political elites who constantly look down on them.
Interestingly, just as Williams is pondering this question for U.S. News, I see that Arlie Hochschild has just published a book called Strangers in Their Own Land:  Anger and Mourning on the American Right.   This title is telling because it suggests--perhaps accurately--that the conservative Tea Party types Hochschild went to Louisiana to interview--and whose lives and opinions are the core of the book--have become the "strangers" in the United States, that they are no longer the default norm they were once seen as being.   More on Hochschild's book another day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

More agricultural crime, this time in the pot biz

Two recent stories, one a feature and one breaking news, have highlighted the problem of human trafficking, sexual assault, and other ways workers in California's pot industry are abused.  The first is  Shoshana Walter's piece in Reveal, "In Secretive Marijuana Industry, Whispers of Abuse and Trafficking."  Walter writes from the Emerald Triangle of northern California, which generally refers to chunks of Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake and Trinity counties--a region where the pot industry has flourished, even before partial legalization (for medial purposes) in California.  (My students have written about the Emerald Triangle and the pot biz in No. Cal. on this blog here and here, and I wrote about it here.)  Here's a taste of Walter's story, which is nothing short of harrowing:
[T]he ancient forests here have provided cover for the nation’s largest marijuana-growing industry, shielding pot farmers from convention, outsiders and law enforcement. 
But the forests also hide secrets, among them young women with stories of sexual abuse and exploitation. Some have spoken out; a handful have pressed charges. Most have confided only in private. 
Students from the nearest college, Humboldt State University, return from a summer of trimming marijuana buds with tales of being forced to give their boss a blow job to get paid. Other “trimmigrants,” who typically work during the June-to-November harvest, recount offers of higher wages to trim topless.
During one harvest season, two growers began having sex with their teenage trimmer. When they feared she would run away, they locked her inside an oversized toolbox with breathing holes. 
Contact with law enforcement is rare and, female trimmigrants say, rarely satisfying.
As you can see, the story includes a good dose of how rural socio-spatiality conceals crime (among other things) and impedes law enforcement, which was the topic of my scholarly offering here.  Interestingly, in writing that piece, I got a great deal of push back about, well, how wrong I was.  Two arguments were common.  The first was, essentially, that everyone knows rural people are more law abiding than urban people, so why am I talking about rural crime and law enforcement.  The second--more apropos here--was that technological advancements will ultimately overcome rurality's spatial barriers, diminishing any rural-urban difference in this regard.  Reading stories like this one makes me want to say, "told you so"--though let me be clear that the consequences of these failures of law and law enforcement are not just fodder for academic debate.  These failures have devastating consequences for these especially vulnerable victims.

Just as I was fully digesting this feature, the Sacramento Bee and Capital Public Radio covered a story out of Calaveras County yesterday--breaking news about the arrest of two women who had kidnapped and abused four men in their pot operation.   Interesting that the gender tables were turned in this case (though the women reportedly worked with armed male guards to keep the victims captive). Again, the term "human trafficking" is being used in relation to these events.  The Bee's coverage is here, and Capital Public Radio's is here.

Finally, here is another recent story, this one from upstate New York, that illustrates well how rural spatiality can conceal crime and those on the lam, thus disabling the ordering force of law and undermining the rule of law.  I wrote about these events previously here.

And then there is this one out of central Minnesota.  Rural spatiality (and rural law enforcement) may have played a role here, too, just thinking about the ditch the boys were thrown into and the pit where Jacob Wetterling was attacked and initially buried.

Monday, September 19, 2016

How rural America fared economically in 2015

A few days ago, media were abuzz with the good news of the 2015 economic data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13.  In short, the United States saw one of the steepest ever one-year drops in the U.S. poverty rates. The new data indicated that more low- and middle-income folks were seeing wage rises.  Read more here.

Yet initial reports indicated that the recovery was uneven:  while incomes in metropolitan areas grew 6%, those in nonmetro areas fell 2%.

One follow-up story that illustrated this unevenness, was by Binyamin Appelbaum, Patricia Cohen and Jack Healy in the NY Times under the headline "A Rebounding Economy Remains Fragile for Many."  Among others, they quote Ralph Kingan, mayor of Wright, Wyoming, in the state's coal-rich Powder River Basin:
We ain’t feeling too much of all that economic growth that I heard was going on, patting themselves on the back. It ain’t out in the West.
Coal mines there have laid off many workers in the wake of bankruptcies.  The story features rich vignettes and quotes out of Kentucky, too, linking the economic conditions these places to the current presidential campaign.

Shortly after these reports, however, the New York Times Upshot ran this headline on September 16, "Actually, Income in Rural America is Growing, Too."  In it, Quoctrung Bui explains that a change in the definition of "rural" accounts for the initial confusion over how folks in the hinterlands fared.  I would include an excerpt, but the explanation is not amenable to brevity, so you'll have to read Bui's story for yourself.  Bottom line:  "Median household incomes in rural America actually grew 3.4 percent in 2015."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On organized crime as agricultural crime in Italy

NPR ran this story yesterday by Christopher Livesay, headlined, "'Tough Guy' Farmers Stand Up to Italian Mafia--and Win."  The story features GOEL Bio, a consortium of organic farmers who work together to respond to agricultural crime by the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta.  GOEL Bio does so by pitching in to help the victim.  Livesay features recent "victim" Daniele Pacicca, a farmer of organic olives in Stilo.
[Pacicca's] 1,200 trees are his livelihood. One morning this summer, he was shocked to find 13 of them had been hacked to the ground. 
"It was like a kick in the stomach," he says. "Look at them. I don't think it was an accident that they chose the most visible ones, closest to the road. Maybe someone was trying to teach me a lesson." 
Pacicca is pretty sure who that was: the 'Ndrangheta, the region's organized crime group. Typically when they attack a farmer, they'll do it again and again, until the farmer pays protection money and vows loyalty. 
But that's not what Pacicca did. 
"We cried out: Enough! This can't go on any longer with this mafia system," he says. "That's the idea behind GOEL."
* * *  
"They chopped down 13 trees, so we planted twice as many, 26," says Vincenzo Linarello, the founder of GOEL Bio. "The idea is to send a message right away that they can't stop us. And we'll get up stronger every time they strike. They work by sending signals. So we need to send a signal."
Another Italian agriculture story, this one in the New York Times about saving heirloom fruit trees, is here.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

On being a public defender in rural Louisiana

Here's a story in The Guardian today, about the sole public defender, Rhonda Covington, who serves  East and West Feliciana parishes in rural Louisiana.  Eli Hager reports:
At any given moment, she could be investigating cases, calling witnesses, scouring through evidence, taking photos at crime scenes (with her own camera), meeting with her clients’ families, writing motions, typing up pleadings, making appointments, answering the phones, answering the door, getting the mail at the post office, filling in timesheets, filing monthly reports, doing the accounting, paying the rent and utilities, cleaning the bathroom, dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floors, taking out the trash, trimming the bushes, unclogging the plumbing, buying the toilet paper, or meeting with everyone arrested in a thousand-square-mile area just north of Baton Rouge, within 72 hours of their arrest.
East Feliciana Parish, population 20,267, with a poverty rate 20.4%, is 44% black.  West Feliciana Parish, population 15,625 with a poverty rate of 24%, is 45% black.  Both border the State of Mississippi and are part of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Statistical Area.

This story is well worth a read in its entirety.  My analysis of spatial inequality with regard to delivery of indigent defense, with a focus on nonmetropolitan places, is here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

More on "white trash" and rurality in the context of this campaign season

The media continues to devote significant coverage to poor and working class white voters and their inclinations this election season.  Yesterday, linguist Geoff Nunberg appeared on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, commenting on the wide range of derogatory terms for poor whites, with one mention of rurality.  The headline is "A Resurgence Of 'Redneck' Pride, Marked By Race, Class And Trump."  Nunberg notes that the New York Daily News has called Trump's supporters "bigots, bumpkins and rednecks" while the New York Post has labeled them the "hillbilly class" and "white trash Americans."  Here is an excerpt.  
Back in 1989, the historian C. Vann Woodward said that "redneck," is the only epithet for an ethnic minority that's still permitted in polite company.  He could have said the same thing about "hillbilly" or "white trash."   
* * * 
Over the years, Americans have probably coined more epithets for poor whites than for any other group, even including blacks. Rednecks and hillbillies, white trash and trailer trash, Okies and Arkies, peckerwoods and pinelanders, crackers and clay eaters, mudsils and ridge-runners and dozens more.
Like others before him, Nurnberg observes that Americans don't find class-based prejudice as problematic as racism.  He goes on at length about "redneck" in particular, linking it to the rural. Noting that "redneck" initially suggested a white laborer from the South, "it soon became a label for uncouth working-class racists from any rural region."

And then there is the migration of the term not just from the South to other regions but also from rural places to urban settings.  This second type of migration is addressed by J.D. Vance in his NYT bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy.  That rural-to-urban migration is also suggested in this Nunberg piece, at least implicitly, where he talks about white-collar jobs--and how some doing those jobs may be (re)claiming the "redneck" terminology.
 In his 1983 song "Just a Redneck at Heart," Ronnie Milsap explained that wearing a suit and tie to your corporate job didn't disqualify you from being a redneck as long as you kept a copy of Field & Stream in your desk. 
Nowadays, everybody is eligible — a few years ago Donald Trump Jr. told an interviewer that his love of fly fishing and bow hunting made him a closet redneck. At that point, redneck isn't a class, it's a lifestyle choice. 
But whoever is claiming the label, redneck pride is always infused with attitude. When you call yourself a redneck you're not simply proclaiming your authenticity — you're calling out the scorn and condescension of the people who use the word as a slur. 
That's why the word always sounds a little belligerent, and why it encapsulates the populist anger and resentment that the Trump campaign has stirred. As the Los Angeles Times' columnist Gregory Rodriguez put it, "You know you're a redneck when you're mad as hell and you just want to spread it around."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rural prison building boom evolves into rural jail expansion boom?

That seems to be the second headline of the NYTimes Upshot story that I wrote about here regarding the fact that small-population counties are now sending folks to prison--or jail--for longer terms than their urban counterparts.  In fact, those being sentenced are not just going to prison--in some instances they are being sentenced to time in the local jail. This is being facilitated by jail expansions in places like Dearborn County, Indiana, which Josh Keller and Adam Pearce feature in their story.  Dearborn County, they report, has doubled the capacity of the local jail and also expanded the capacity of county courthouse, at costs of $11.5 million and $11 million, respectively.  Yet "money for drug treatment is scarce."  Keller and Pearce note that incarceration is frequently the "only well-funded response to a range of social ills, including drug abuse and mental illness" in places like Dearborn County.  Funding for drug treatment is scarce.  (I have written about this as a rural phenomenon here and here).  Although the vast majority of inmates (225 of 250) in the Dearborn County jail suffer from drug addition, the county's drug treatment program can serve only about 40 of them.

All of this makes me wonder about the extent of the "rural" jail building/expansion boom, a phenomenon that was the topic of earlier blog posts here (based on a story in the Times-Picayune, out of New Orleans, in 2012) and here (based on what has happened in my own home county in rural Arkansas).  This raises the question: to what extent are local governments being co-opted by private prisons and other forces to keep incarceration steady, if not on the rise, even as a "bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities."

Monday, September 5, 2016

On the lack of geographic (and other) diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times today about the "striking lack of diversity" among the eight justices who currently comprise the U.S. Supreme Court.  The relative lack of geographic and religious diversity are noted in particular, but the lack of cultural diversity is suggested by implication, as where Justice Kagan is quoted as mentioning that the Court may suffer a "coastal perspective."  The only Supreme Court justice not from one of the coasts is Justice John Roberts, who grew up in Indiana.  Judge Anthony Kennedy is the only justice from west of the Mississippi River.  He grew up in Sacramento, California.  
In remarks last week in Arizona and Colorado, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ... talk[ed] about how a new colleague could reinforce or disrupt a court that is in some ways exceptionally homogeneous. 
“We’re not as diverse as some would like in many important characteristics — educational institutions, religion, places where we come from,” Justice Sotomayor said on Thursday at a judicial conference here.
Both Sotomayor and Kagan opined that "more diversity on the court would bolster public confidence in its work."  Liptak quotes Justice Kagan:
People look at an institution and they see people who are like them, who share their experiences, who they imagine share their set of values, and that’s a sort of natural thing and they feel more comfortable if that occurs.
* * * 
 It’s obviously true that people bring their backgrounds and experiences to the job in some sense.
I have previously mused on the lack of geographic diversity on the court--in particular the lack of a rural perspective--here, here and here.   

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Low-population counties sending people to prison at higher rates than cities

That was the basic headline (one of them, anyway) in the Upshot section of the New York Times a few days ago, and that news seemed to surprise folks because, I guess, it runs counter to conventional wisdom that urban criminal justice systems--largely driven by racial animus--are the only ones run amok, sending people of color to prison in disproportionate numbers as they do.  Here is an excerpt from Josh Keller and Adam Pearce's analysis for the NYT:  
A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s. From 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions dropped 36 percent in Indianapolis; 37 percent in Brooklyn; 69 percent in Los Angeles County; and 93 percent in San Francisco. 
But large parts of rural and suburban America — overwhelmed by the heroin epidemic and concerned about the safety of diverting people from prison — have gone the opposite direction. Prison admissions in counties with fewer than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has fallen, according to a New York Times analysis, which offers a newly detailed look at the geography of American incarceration.
The story uses Dearborn County, Indiana, population 50,047, as a case study--selected because it has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.  As Keller and Pearce summarize, the county  "represents the new boom in American prisons: mostly white, rural and politically conservative."

To be clear, that description is of the places sending the people to prison, not (necessarily) of the place(s) where the prisons are located.  The rural prison building boom is "old news." Read more here, here and here.  No, this is about nonmetropolitan and low-population counties that are arguably over the top when it comes to being tough on crime.

The authors explain that, as recently as a decade ago, local justice systems were about equally likely to send people to prison, regardless of whether located in rural, suburban or urban places. Now, however, those prosecuted in "small counties" are about 50% "more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties."

The story highlights the "law and order" mentality of some small-town prosecutors, elected and out to prove to their constituents that they have essentially a zero tolerance policy on crime.  As Dearborn County's elected prosecutor Aaron Negangard expresses it:
I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than other counties. ... That’s how we keep it safe here. ... My constituents are the people who decide whether I keep doing my job. The governor can’t make me. The legislature can’t make me. ... If you’re not prosecuting, then you’re de facto legalizing it.
Interestingly, Dearborn County is part of the Cincinnati-Middletown OH-KY-IN Metropolitan Area, so it is, by some measure, "urban."  Middletown, incidentally, is the setting for J.D. Vance's memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, a book that has garnered enormous attention this summer.  It is an account of white working class decline, in which crime and drug abuse loom large.

There is another aspect of this story about small-population counties, small-town justice systems, and I'll return to it in a second post in a day or two.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Compelling report on rural-urban economic differences in Colorado--and their impact on the 2016 election

The Associated Press reported an excellent (if also somewhat depressing) feature story a few days ago under the headline, "Divided America:  The Rural-Urban Split from Rocky Ford to Denver."  The report highlights rural-urban difference, with Rocky Ford, in nonmetropolitan Otero County illustrating "rural" economic decline and population loss and Denver representing "urban" flourishing.  This is a very rich story that captures a great deal of nuance and a range of issues that I have been writing about for several years:  population loss, rural economics, attachment to land, water, and--of course--the rural vote.

Here's an excerpt about Rocky Ford and one of its residents, Peggy Sheahan:
Middle-class jobs vanished years ago as pickling and packing plants closed. [Sheahan's] had to cut back on her business repairing broken windshields to help nurse her husband after a series of farm accidents, culminating in his breaking his neck falling from a bale of hay. She collects newspaper clippings on stabbings and killings in the area — one woman's body was found in a field near Sheahan's farm — as heroin use rises.
The author then depicts thriving Denver and one of its young residents, Andrea Pacheco, commenting that these two women--Sheahan and Pacheco--don't know each other.  Naturally, they don't know each other because rural and urban and separate hemispheres which rarely converge--at least that is what the author suggests:
There are few divides in the United States greater than that between rural and urban places. Town and country represent not just the poles of the nation's two political parties, but different economic realities that are transforming the 2016 presidential election. 
Cities are trending Democratic and are on an upward economic shift, with growing populations and rising property values. Rural areas are increasingly Republican, steadily shedding population for decades, and as commodity and energy prices drop, increasingly suffering economically. 
The political divide goes even deeper than simply between the two parties. In the GOP primary, rural areas voted reliably for Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose angrier style of politics many analysts argued were too harsh and off-putting to play well with a broader electorate. Urban and suburban Republicans were more likely to support candidates widely seen as more electable like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Katich [sic]. 
The story quotes Scott Reed, political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who has advised Republican campaigns in the past:
The urban-rural split this year is larger than anything we've ever seen.
The story also addresses other aspects of the disconnect between rural and urban, including the fact that many rural voters feel that urban residents don't understand them and state legislatures and officials do not value them.  They mourn the political clout they no longer have, especially in comparison to the state's urbanites.  Here are some key excerpts:
  • Otero County and other far-flung rural areas face an uphill battle against geography. Economic development officials say businesses increasingly relocate to areas close to international airports, putting far-flung parts of the country at a natural disadvantage. 
  • Residents are painfully aware that they lack the numbers, and corresponding political clout, of Colorado's urbanites.
  • Kevin Karney, an Otero County commissioner, noted that the state Department of Transportation doesn't plow Otero's roads in the winter overnight, because its crews have been shifted to keep snow-free the interstate running from Denver to Colorado's ski resorts. "It's like rural Colorado doesn't matter," Karney said.
  • Eric Van Dyk feels overlooked. The 40-year-old farms as a labor of love — he works fields of hay, corn and small grains, then hustles to the town of Rocky Ford where he teaches agriculture at the local high school to pay the bills. The running joke in the region is that farmers have to have a day job to support their hobby.
  • Van Dyk is happy with his rural life — its quiet, close community ties and a connection with the land that an urbanite who dines at organic restaurants will never fathom. But he's aghast at what he sees as a rising number of people in his county relying on food stamps rather than hard work but acknowledges it's tough to make a living in Otero County. 
The story quotes Richard Florida, a prominent urban theorist about the chasm between rural and urban:  
People in urban and rural areas are living very different lives and experiencing the world very differently.
Finally, the story contrasts the experience of rural homelessness--a burgeoning problem--with the challenge of rural gentrification.

I'm not sure the extent to which the political divide is caused by rural-urban difference versus some other axis of difference that overlaps with the rural-urban axis or continuum, e.g., the economic fortunes the story suggests.  But given that this story plays up rural-urban difference with respect to economics and also in relation to politics, it is interesting to contemplate the parallels between Colorado and the wider United States as we approach the Presidential election and the recent Brexit vote, which I wrote about here.