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The phrase "poverty in America" conjures images of urban blight and plight, but in reality, rural poverty rates are higher than those in metropolitan areas.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 16 percent of rural populations (about 8.1 million people) are poor, compared with about 12 percent of urban populations. Children fare worse: In urban areas of 1 million or more residents, 16 percent of children fall below the poverty line, compared with as many as 27 percent in some rural areas.

More than one in five poor children in America live in a rural area, but when media or policymakers discuss poverty, they usually talk about the city. When the Communication Consortium Media Center examined more than 1,400 newspaper articles on federal welfare reform several years ago, not one article dealt with the issue in rural areas.

William P. O'Hare, a fellow at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which conducts policy research on vulnerable children and families, wrote in a 2009 study that "in recent decades … rural poverty has been overshadowed by the plight of the 'urban underclass.'?" In the same study, The Forgotten Fifth: Child Poverty in Rural America, O'Hare noted that unlike urban poverty, rural poverty has many guises, including "impoverished rural hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers' shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonias along the Rio Grande. The lack of a single image of rural poverty makes it more difficult to describe and discuss it."

It also makes it more difficult to find solutions. In rural counties, there is typically little work available. Steel mills and other ...

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In the Magazine

January 2011

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