Despite concerns about the fate of rural America, a number of key benchmarks show these areas have been growing economically since 2014. Many were surprised when the Census Bureau released data last Thursday showing median household income in non-metro areas of the United States had increased by 3.4 percent in 2015 and poverty rates had fallen. That many people in small towns around the country still feel left behind is an indication of how deep a hole these regions were in. At the depths of the Great Recession, rural counties were shedding 200,000 jobs per year, rural unemployment stood at nearly 10 percent and poverty rates reached heights unseen in decades. Many rural communities were ill-positioned to bounce back quickly, since widespread job loss came as the economy was increasingly focused on technology. But we're seeing progress. Rural populations have stabilized and are beginning to grow, the Agriculture Department reported earlier this year. Then we learned that rural counties had added more than 250,000 jobs in 2014 and 2015. As a result, the rural unemployment rate has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2007. Hunger is down in rural and urban areas alike. Today, about 8 million fewer people are struggling to provide adequate food for themselves or their families compared to the height of the recession.
Stop trying to become the next Silicon Valley. While Alicia Keys may be the driving voice behind the “do you” mantra these days, there is truth in owning what is uniquely yours. Silicon Valley has a corner on the capital market, but money alone does not build strong companies. A strong business model is key, and more cities should be helping entrepreneurs to find gaps and see them as opportunities. Phoenix has a compelling case to make to solar innovators just as Sacramento does for sustainable agriculture. Attracting and retaining brilliant minds to solve problems with assets that are unique to a region should be a focus for all civic leaders.Recognize that your success is not riding on white males with tech startups. In 2015, 40 percent of new entrepreneurs were African American, Latino, Asian or non-white, and 36 percent were women. With an aging population, 25 percent of new entrepreneurs last year wereindividuals aged 55-64. When did you last read about the 60-year-old African American woman who raised a series A? Right. Last year, companies with at least one female founder received a mere 10 percent of venture capital funding. Many startup competitions, angel network pitch nights and big wins in the local newspaper do not reflect these growing demographics. At SEED SPOT, we have launched several women-only programs, partnered with the International Rescue committee to serve refugee entrepreneurs, and launched “Véndeme tu Sueño” in partnership with Univision to serve more Latino entrepreneurs. Each emerging population is a huge asset for the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One of the ways the inequality gap has widened is through a concentration of wealth among a small subset of the population. No matter how you look at it, whether it’s through income quintiles or the top 1%, gains have been made by those at the top and a greater percentage of overall wealth is now in their hands than was the case in the immediate post-World War II period. This concentration perpetuates itself, asindividuals and families who start out with less wealth to build on often fail to climb the economic ladder. This is why entrepreneurship can be so powerful a force that breaks through these constructions that concentrate wealth. One of the fundamental characteristics of entrepreneurship is a sense of egalitarianism. In an ideal world, anyone can and does have the ability to strike out on their own and start a business. It doesn’t require a degree, nor a minimum number of hours to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is supposed to be open, a career where anyone can be successful and financial success is based upon the value the business generates.
For Clements and a growing population of the most vulnerable — the elderly, disabled and uninsured — access to health care is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. The West’s rural areas, as data from the American Medical Association and U.S. Census Bureau show, are simultaneously experiencing a higher demand for services and a decrease in the number of doctors and others qualified to provide those services. In the most extreme examples, some Western counties have seen their elderly populations increase by nearly 60 percent. According to census projections, by 2030, more than 31 million Americans will be older than 75, the largest such population in the country’s history. Nearly 17 million of them will live in the West, comprising 22 percent of the region’s projected population. The number of doctors, meanwhile, is not keeping pace, data from the American Medical Association and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show. Torrance County, New Mexico, for example, has a patient-to-doctor ratio of more than 15,000 to one. That’s more than four times the threshold for consideration as a “health professional shortage area.” People who live far from health care are most vulnerable during emergencies, such as heart attacks, severe lacerations, strokes or asthma attacks. Without a nearby clinic, the delays in response become a serious problem. In Paonia, the ambulance services are run by volunteers, and the average response time is 15 minutes. Come September, the nearest clinic will be another 15 minutes away, in a neighboring town, with the nearest hospital about 30 miles from that. “That is a very long time to wait if you’re badly hurt,” says Jean Ceriani, a member of the Delta County Memorial Hospital board. “Someone could die.”
Every minute counts during a stroke. Blood-thinning drugs and surgery can prevent traumatic brain injury, but doctors must act fast: A life-saving procedure called a clot retrieval, for instance, is only effective within about eight hours of a stroke’s onset. A drug called tPA, which dissolves stroke-inducing blood clots, must start acting within about four hours. Moreover, a wrong move can be deadly when treating a stroke patient. Few rural emergency room doctors are trained to confidently make such high-stakes calls. As a result, only a tiny fraction of rural stroke victims eligible for the life-saving blood-thinner actually get it, said Howard Yonas, a neurosurgeon at the University of New Mexico. Instead, many rural doctors opt to fly patients by helicopter to the state’s only Level 1 trauma center in Albuquerque, a costly and sometimes unnecessary measure that consumes precious hours. Now, Yonas and other New Mexico doctors are turning to the power of remote medicine to help stroke patients avoid expensive life-flights and receive timely procedures. The strategy is to loop Albuquerque specialists into rural emergency rooms by video and immediately share brain scans before deciding to transfer the patient. The program, called Access to Critical Cerebral Support Services, or ACCESS, started in 2014 with a $15.1 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In the two years since, one hospital in Roswell has gone from shipping about half its brain trauma victims to Albuquerque to transferring just 6 percent.
A study by the Federal Reserve found that a quarter of Americans went without dental care they needed in 2014 because they couldn't afford it. For those in rural areas, the problem is far worse. A 2015 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that people in rural areas are poorer and less likely to have dental insurance than their urban counterparts. They're also less likely to have fluoridated water, and more likely to live in an area where dentists are in short supply. Those dentists that are there probably don't take Medicaid, government health insurance for the poor.
The British decision to leave the European Union, China’s economic slowdown, a strong dollar and other global factors spell trouble for states that depend on international tourists for tax revenue. In Florida, where 23 percent of sales tax revenue comes from tourism, officials are worried that the weakness of the British pound, one effect of the “Brexit” vote, will keep British tourists away and hurt local businesses and tax receipts. Because international travelers typically book their trips 4-6 months in advance, Florida might not feel the effects of the Brexit vote for several more months. Las Vegas has long depended on international visitors, who stay longer and spend more than U.S. tourists. Analysts say slower growth in the number of Chinese visitors, which started two years ago, is showing up in less wagering at high-stakes baccarat tables, a favorite game of Asian tourists.
A new statewide grant program aims to award start-up funds to programs outside the vortex of Wisconsin's metro areas. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced plans Monday to award a total of $500,000 to 10 or so business development groups in cities or rural areas that may have been overlooked by past entrepreneurship programs. The agency ultimately will award grants between $10,000 and $100,000 to projects across the state, said Aaron Hagar, WEDC's vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation.
In another sign that the economic recovery is moving very slowly for rural America, median household incomes for rural Americans didn’t improve from 2014 to 2015 while they did for metropolitan areas. The Census Bureau’s newly released income and earnings report for 2014-2015 showed that median household incomes rose last year for the nation for the first time since 2007. Nationally, median household income grew by about $2,800 to reach $56,516 in 2015. That’s an increase of a little more than 5 percent. But the national increase hides geographic differences. People living in the principal cities of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) saw their median income rise by an estimated 7.3 percent. People in the suburbs (inside an MSA but not living in the principal city) had a median-income increase of 4 percent. But median household income for rural Americans (those living outside a metropolitan statistical area) dropped by an estimated 2 percent from 2014 to 2015. The drop was within the survey’s margin of error, meaning the drop could be a little more or a little less than the estimate. But either way, rural America’s income picture is different from the rest of the nation’s. “I think the most interesting thing is that the rural numbers were some of the only estimates [in the report] that did not show a statistically significant, gain,” wrote Keith Wiley, a researcher at the rural-focused Housing Assistance Council. In other words, the rest of the nation did measurably better while rural America saw virtually no change. The Census report had similar news for rural America in its poverty estimates. Metropolitan areas did better; rural areas did the same or perhaps a little worse.
Joey Chihuahua got a death-row pardon. A few months ago, he was scooped from the streets of California, taken to a shelter and put up for adoption. But after no one claimed him, he was moved to the kill floor — until a kind-hearted Canadian flew to the rescue. Judy Carter, who's with Heart Prints Dog Rescue Society in Edmonton, said she heard of Joey's plight and brought him home. She says Chihuahuas are one of the most euthanized breeds in California. "They're throw-away dogs down there." Carter isn't alone. It's estimated that Canadians bring in tens of thousands of dogs from around the world each year, many of them rescue dogs like Joey. But experts warn Canada does very little monitoring and has few regulations for importing adult dogs into the country. The challenge? Some of these furry refugees carry parasites, bacteria and viruses rarely seen in this country — pathogens that could pose a serious threat to local pets, wildlife and people.