Rural Nerds: Top 10 Rural Research Looks at Hardship

Number 5 in our countdown of the Center for Rural Affairs Top 10 Rural Research Reports is not for the faint of heart. This week the Throwback Thursday report is Swept Away: Chronic Harship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great Plains, from 2003.

It compares the prosperity then sweeping the country with the economic hardship experienced in rural areas. Jon Bailey and Kim Preston began the report this way: "A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away." - Proverbs 13:23 (New International Version)

#5 Swept Away: Chronic Hardship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great Plains

by Jon M. Bailey and Kim Preston, 2003

Despite the longest sustained period of national economic growth in history during the 1990s, economic hardships in rural areas of the Great Plains region persisted. Swept Away continued documentation of the wide economic gap between agriculturally-based areas of the Great Plains (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and other areas of the region.

More importantly, it showed a continuation of this trend we had documented since 1980 despite favorable national economic trends.

Key Findings

  • The number of agriculturally-based counties in the region declined to 149 counties (from 261 in 2000).
  • Population in rural areas of the region continued to decline while the region as a whole gained population from 1990 to 2000.
  • Poverty in the smallest agriculturally-based counties of the region was over 60% greater than in metropolitan counties of the region.
  • Poverty in the agriculturally-based counties of the region was again widespread. Over 1-in-5 households in agriculturally-based counties had annual incomes over $15,000, compared to 1-in-8 households in metropolitan counties of the region.
  • Income and earnings in agriculturally-based counties of the region were significantly lower than in metropolitan counties.

Download Swept Away: Chronic Harship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great Plains here.