Rural poverty in America

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Event Summary

Policymakers often overlook rural poverty, although it remains a persistent problem in the United States. On Thursday, AEI and the American Academy of Political and Social Science welcomed a panel of experts to discuss poverty in rural America.

Cornell University’s Daniel Lichter stressed the need to clearly define “rural” and “poverty,” especially when examining the spatial boundaries of rural poverty. He also underscored the absolute decline in rural populations despite recent influxes of immigrants and the associated brain drain of the best and brightest members of those societies. The University of Kentucky’s James Ziliak highlighted the “missing markets” of skilled workers in rural poor areas. He addressed factors that explain the gap between rich and poor counties, emphasizing human capital and urbanicity.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Dottie Rosenbaum discussed the importance of welfare programs reaching rural populations and the necessity of further research. AEI’s Robert Doar noted the differences that arise when using the Supplemental Poverty Measure versus the original measure to assess rural poverty, highlighting that some, especially self-reported, measures of poverty do not accurately capture the condition of poor Americans. Asked to consider policy solutions, the panelists discussed place-based programs, a reemphasis on family well-being, and investments in education.

–Casey A. Apicella

Event Description

Although conversations about poverty often focus on a distinctly urban context, recent books such as J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” (Harper, 2016) and pressing policy issues such as the opioid epidemic have encouraged policymakers and the public to reorient their understanding of poverty to include the struggles of impoverished rural populations. Low-income families in rural areas increasingly face high unemployment, labor-force detachment, family and marriage disintegration, poor educational performance, and substance abuse. These issues require public policy attention that accounts for our knowledge of the rural poor’s contemporary economic and social circumstances.

Join AEI and the American Academy of Political and Social Science for a panel discussion on the state of poverty in rural America, what has been done to combat the phenomenon, and what steps should be taken next.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


12:15 PM
Registration and lunch

12:30 PM
Presentations and panel discussion

Robert Doar, AEI
Daniel Lichter, Cornell University
Dottie Rosenbaum, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
James Ziliak, University of Kentucky

2:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Nicole Noyes at [email protected], 202.862.7197.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Robert Doar is the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at AEI, where he studies and evaluates how free enterprise and improved federal policies and programs can reduce poverty and provide opportunities for vulnerable Americans. Before joining AEI, Mr. Doar worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg as commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, where he administered 12 public assistance programs, including welfare, food assistance, public health insurance, and help for people living with HIV/AIDS. Before joining the Bloomberg administration, Mr. Doar was New York State commissioner of social services, helping make New York a model for the implementation of welfare reform.

Daniel Lichter is the Ferris Family Professor in the department of policy analysis and management, professor of sociology, and the Robert S. Harrison Director of Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences. He is past president of the Population Association of America and the Rural Sociological Society. He also has served as editor of Demography.

Dottie Rosenbaum is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Her work focuses primarily on federal and state issues in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and issues that involve the coordination of SNAP and other state-administered health and income security programs, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and child care. In addition, Ms. Rosenbaum has expertise on the federal budget and budget process. Before joining the center, she was a budget analyst at the Congressional Budget Office for six years. She projected federal spending and provided Congress with cost estimates for a variety of programs including SNAP, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, child nutrition, and elementary and secondary education.

James Ziliak is founding director of the Center for Poverty Research and founding executive director of the Kentucky Federal Statistical Research Data Center at the University of Kentucky, where he holds the Carol Martin Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics in the Department of Economics. He is also a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies. His research focuses on labor and public economics, with a special emphasis on US tax and transfer programs, poverty measurement and policy, food insecurity, and inequality.

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