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Our Miserable 21st Century

Commentary Magazine | Posted on February 27, 2017

From work to income to health to social mobility, the year 2000 marked the beginning of what has become a distressing era for the United States.  From peak to trough, the collapse in work rates for U.S. adults between 2008 and 2010 was roughly twice the amplitude of what had previously been the country’s worst postwar recession, back in the early 1980s. In that previous steep recession, it took America five years to re-attain the adult work rates recorded at the start of 1980. This time, the U.S. job market has as yet, in early 2017, scarcely begun to claw its way back up to the work rates of 2007—much less back to the work rates from early 2000. As may be seen in Figure 3, U.S. adult work rates never recovered entirely from the recession of 2001—much less the crash of ’08. And the work rates being measured here include people who are engaged in any paid employment—any job, at any wage, for any number of hours of work at all. On Wall Street and in some parts of Washington these days, one hears that America has gotten back to “near full employment.” For Americans outside the bubble, such talk must seem nonsensical. It is true that the oft-cited “civilian unemployment rate” looked pretty good by the end of the Obama era—in December 2016, it was down to 4.7 percent, about the same as it had been back in 1965, at a time of genuine full employment. The problem here is that the unemployment rate only tracks joblessness for those still in the labor force; it takes no account of workforce dropouts. Alas, the exodus out of the workforce has been the big labor-market story for America’s new century. (At this writing, for every unemployed American man between 25 and 55 years of age, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work.) Thus the “unemployment rate” increasingly looks like an antique index devised for some earlier and increasingly distant war: the economic equivalent of a musket inventory or a cavalry count.

California county may have to pay farmer 48$ million

The Press Enterprise | Posted on February 24, 2017

San Bernardino County could pay $48 million for the property of one of the few remaining Chino dairy farmers after the family complained in a lawsuit that most of their spread, located under a landing pattern for Chino Airport, had been turned into a no-build zone without compensation. The lawsuit, which went into private arbitration, claimed that the county had, bit by bit over the past 25 years, turned most of the 58 acres of dairy land owned since the 1960s by Jim and Annie Nyenhuis into a runway protection zone. Planes, including private jets, fly low right over the family's ranch-style home and property on Remington Street as they come in for a landing at the airport, just west of the dairy. The $48 million includes the value of the 58-acres of land, legal costs, and relocation money. The designation precluded most of the acreage from development, even as property all around the Nyenhuis's farm turned into commercial and housing developments.

Partisan Divide in Congress Wider Than Ever on Environmental Issues, Group Says

Inside Climate News | Posted on February 24, 2017

League of Conservation Voters' voting scorecard shows record disparity on green issues, with GOP campaigns increasingly funded by fossil fuel company contributions. House Republicans cast pro-environmental votes just 5 percent of the time in 2016, while their Democratic colleagues tallied a 94 percent voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters. That makes the 114th Congress the most politically polarized in the 46-year history of LCV's Scorecard, the new numbers released Thursday show. In the Senate, the average GOP member was voting pro-environment 14 percent of the time, while the Democrats' average was 96 percent. The gap of 85 points between the Republican and Democratic average scores in 2016 was only slightly smaller than the record 87-point divide in 2015. As a whole, Congress was more divided than ever in the two years before the most recent election.   The gulf between the parties on Capitol Hill also coincides with a trend in support lawmakers receive on the campaign trail: In the 2016 election cycle, 88 percent of the $31.3 million that the fossil fuel industry donated in Congressional races went to Republicans; 12 percent to Democrats, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In comparison, as recently as 2008, political contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries favored the GOP over the Democrats by a 75-25 percent split. In 1990, the Republicans' edge was 56-44 percent. 

The average distance to a forest is increasing for Americans

Research Gate | Posted on February 24, 2017

In a decade it has increased by 14 percent, or about a third of a mile. The loss of isolated forest patches has seen forests move farther on average from any given point in the continental US. In a new PLOS ONE study, Giorgos Mountrakis and colleagues looked at data from 1990 to 2000 and found that the shifting distance was more pronounced in rural areas than in urban settings, as they are at higher risk of losing forested patches.

A girl named Ehlena and a dog named Wonder win at U.S. Supreme Court

Reuters | Posted on February 24, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with a disabled Michigan girl whose school refused to let her bring her service dog to class, making it easier for students like her to seek redress for discrimination in federal court. The justices ruled 8-0 that Ehlena Fry, 13, and her parents may not be obligated to go through time-consuming administrative appeals with the local school board before suing for damages for the emotional distress she said she suffered by being denied the assistance of her dog, a goldendoodle named Wonder. Ehlena was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that severely limited her mobility. Wonder was trained to help her balance, retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, turn on lights, take off her coat and other tasks.

States Expand Preparation and Mitigation Efforts as Floods Increase Nationwide

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

Flood events are becoming more intense across the United States, affecting the physical and economic stability of communities and threatening human lives and delicate ecosystems. Every part of the country is vulnerable to losses from increased flooding; in the past five years, all 50 states have experienced flood events. Federal, state, and local entities share the responsibility for weather-related disaster preparedness and response. This series of fact sheets examines the flood risks, mitigation efforts, and associated costs for states.

Cattle, humans both help taint wells in Wisconsin's Kewaunee County

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Posted on February 23, 2017

In a new study of groundwater conditions in dairy farm-intensive Kewaunee County, researchers found higher levels of well contamination from cattle during wet weather events — when manure, rain and melting snow can seep quickly into the ground. But the results also show that cattle in this northeastern county are not the only source of tainted drinking water. Human waste from sanitary systems is also polluting wells. The study is the latest research on factors affecting groundwater pollution in a region where tensions over large-scale farms are the greatest in Wisconsin. “The bottom line is that both kinds of mammals — large animals and humans on the landscape — are to blame,” said Mark A. Borchardt, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose work was funded by the Department of Natural Resources. Kewaunee County has one of the highest concentrations of large-scale farms in the state. The farms have come under sharp criticism for having an out-sized impact. Borchardt's study sampled water during three periods in 2016 and found polluted water was often traced to sanitary systems during relatively dry periods. But during wet conditions when groundwater was being recharged, polluted water was linked to cattle.

As Trump Eyes Infrastructure, State and Local Leaders Defend Tax-Exempt ‘Muni Bonds’

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 23, 2017

Nationwide, the “muni bond” market has funded $1.65 trillion worth of projects for cities and other governments over the past decade. The borrowed money has paid for schools, roads, water and sewer systems, airports, bridges and other vital infrastructure. “These aren’t shiny baubles. These are essential infrastructure,” said Democratic Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is in his second term. “This is a sacrosanct part of our taxing policy that has been in existence since 1913.” But some Republicans on Capitol Hill want to end the tax-exempt status of muni bonds as part of broader changes to the federal tax code. That has many state and local officials worried. A city’s ability to borrow depends on investors’ willingness to lend it money by purchasing bonds. And the tax-exempt status of muni bonds is part of what makes them so attractive to investors, especially high-income taxpayers looking to reduce their tax bills.

Small farmers play big role in felling Peru rainforest: satellite maps

Reuters | Posted on February 23, 2017

Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has risen this century - destroying an area of rainforest 14 times larger than Los Angeles - with small farmers behind most of the cutting, according to a new analysis of satellite maps. Small farmers account for about 80 percent of Peru's forest loss, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group, said on Wednesday. "One of the big findings of this report is that deforestation is not driven by sexier issues such as large-scale oil palm (plantations) or dams, but widespread small-scale agriculture," said Matt Finer, MAAP's director.

Oregon, Montana want to host Outdoor Retailer show

Deseret News | Posted on February 23, 2017

Tourism officials in Oregon and Montana are courting a trade show for outdoor retailers that is leaving Utah after the state's stance on public lands sparked some brands to boycott the biannual event. Outdoor Retailer organizers made the decision after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert refused to rescind his call for the reversal of a new national monument designation.  Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said the industry is all about defending public lands and cannot stand by Utah's decision. The event has grown from 5,000 people at the first show in 1996 to about 29,000 last summer. It attracted an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah during the two shows held each year.