The new Smokey Bear exhibit at the National Zoo opened May 23, 2019. (US Forest Service photo.)

Two writers at Axios have helpfully compiled a list of every malady, deficiency and affliction urban journalists have attributed to rural communities. It is predictably titled “The Rural America Death Spiral.”

There is nothing new here, just a recounting of various kinds of “deserts” rural people are presumed to live in — health, education and job. There are “pathologies,” “malaise,” and “discontent.” All leading, of course, to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

“Let’s say you were born, grew up, and now reside in rural America,” write Stef Kight and Juliet Bartz. “Throughout your life, you have been more susceptible to poverty, lower education, illness and even death than your urban counterparts.”

Our simple answer to Kight and Bartz is that if it’s such a living hell out here, why is it so much fun? Why do we get such a feeling of belonging and purpose and community?

We also might ask Axios why kids growing up in rural America do much better than kids who grow up in the bustling, high tech, whiz-bang cities of tomorrow. Kids from poor families growing up in rural areas have a better “chance” than kids from similar families in urban areas. They are less likely to go to prison. They are more likely to form families. And they earn higher incomes.

The research from Raj Chetty and Nate Hendren is quite clear. (See the data on prisons, on marriage, and on incomes.

“Rural areas produce better outcomes,” Harvard University’s Nate Hendren told us. Don’t we know it!

—Bill Bishop


Much has been made of the less “diverse” nature of rural communities. There is less discussion of the growing segregation within American cities, where neighborhoods are dividing by income and race.

“Over the last forty years US cities have experienced a profound transformation in their socioeconomic structure: poor and rich families have become increasingly spatially separated over time,” write two economists in a just-published paper. The segregation has primarily been economic.

What the economists find is that this segregation leads to greater economic inequality — which in turn leads to greater segregation. Poor kids who grow up in segregated neighborhoods don’t do as well later in life as poor kids who grow up in integrated neighborhoods.

This is one of the reasons rural kids do better than urban kids. Neighborhoods in rural areas are less segregated economically. (See the references above to the work of Chetty and Hendren.) We all go to the same school, vote in the same precinct and shop in the same stores.

Not only is this a better way to live, it has real economic advantages to kids growing up in poor families.mj

It’s the unstated, unheard of, unacknowledged rural advantage.

—Bill Bishop


Ben Carson has a response to critics who say federal Opportunity Zones, created to revive distressed communities, wind up helping only wealthy developers.


The real estate publication The Real Deal reports that during a Friday event in New York City the Housing and Urban Development secretary made a very frank assessment of his economic philosophy.

“Some people have complained, and said, ‘This is just a mechanism for rich people to get richer.’ … Um, news flash, rich people are going to get richer anyway.”

He got some chuckles from participants in the Opportunity Zones Expo in Brooklyn. The Real Deal reports one person in the audience said, “Can you believe he just said that?”

For the record, 1,165 rural counties contain Opportunity Zones, which provide development incentives that are supposed to address economic needs. About 900 metropolitan counties have Opportunity Zones.

—Tim Marema


The Iowa State Fair brings corndogs, horseshoes, and presidential hopefuls to Des Moines during election years. This year, in addition to personal appearances, several candidates dropped announcements about efforts to address rural issues. Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren released rural policy documents last week, joining Joe Biden John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, and Bernie Sanders in offering comprehensive rural policy platforms. Pete Buttigieg released a rural healthcare policy initiative. And Cory Booker sponsored a Senate bill containing on conservation and climate change containing major rural provisions.

See more in the Daily Yonder’s Rural Policy Tracker.


Perhaps the most famous rural American isn’t a human, but a bear named Smokey. Smoke turns 75 this year and, like all of us, he’s changed.

High Country News takes us through Smokey’s iterations. Apparently a rash of fires during World War II had destroyed wood needed in the war, and so Smokey was deployed to warn against the danger of fire.

That was Smokey’s line and he stuck with it for 50 years. All forest fires were bad. And then we realized that fire suppression led to a buildup of combustible materials and even more damaging blazes.

So Smokey began talking about “fire adapted communities” and became a bit preachy. “The most dangerous animals in the forest don’t live there,” Smokey said in 2004. Oh, and Smoke went from being a rather pudgy cub to a buff bruin.

You can follow Smokey’s progress here.


Small, rural emergency rooms get their share of trauma — car crashes, hunting accidents, and the like. For critical cases, the strategy is to stabilize patients for transport to a larger trauma centers that can treat the underlying problems.

A training course developed nearly 30 years ago in Iowa teaches rural ER staff to do just that, without the benefit of higher-tech and expensive equipment that may be routinely available in a larger hospital.

The health news service Side Effects, a project of WFYI in Indianapolis, follows the course back to its origins in Iowa, where a surgeon realized that rural ERs needed their own procedures for treating and transporting trauma patients.

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