What causes rural poverty?
While population explosion, lack of infrastructure, corruption, natural disaster, political instability, and war are contributing causes of global poverty, causes of poverty in small-town rural America can look considerably different. Causes of rural poverty include chronic disease/health conditions, lack of transportation, housing, discrimination, loss of income/work, single parenting, and generational poverty.
Chronic Disease/Health Conditions
Chronic disease and health conditions are a leading causes of poverty. Last year, a regional food bank conducted client interviews. Of those interviews, 86% reported having a chronic disease. Participants reported having high blood pressure (33%), depression or some mental health issue (31%), diabetes (29%), asthma (18%), and obesity (14%). In the interviews I conducted for this research, one of the most consistent causes of poverty was chronic disease and health conditions. The participants said;
- Before the cancer, I was supporting my family wonderfully.
- I just came from the clinic and they said I have melanoma, and I'm having surgery in the morning.
- Some of these choices that you're making are really truly life and death.
- My child was a sick baby and then in the hospital for two years.
- Mom, it’s cancer.
- I got diagnosed on January 7th and I was going to have major surgery the next day.
- It was a much bigger surgery than they anticipated and they took everything down to the bone, all the nerves, tissue, everything. So I couldn't walk.
- My health just went as soon as we got here. So I wasn't able to go through with what I wanted to go through with.
- Since 2000 this, this was my 26th surgery.
- I have a, you know, fibromyalgia, I have dementia, I have a Parkinson's in neuropathy. I take probably 17 different pills a day for that.
- I always feel sick, confused, and hurt.
- We were to where we could live again, not anything extra, but to where everything was paid and nobody was bothering us. And then I started getting sick.
- I'm so tired, you know, like right now I’m just wore out.
- We were set up all right. Boom. Triple bypass, heart surgery.
- I’m challenged every time I take a breath.
- I try to hold back tears all the time because of my pain.
Lack of Transportation
Another contributor to poverty is a lack of transportation. While much of small towns are within walking distance, many of the employment opportunities, addiction recovery and treatment facilities, support groups, job training, education opportunities and resources require travel. Participants of the interviews named this challenge by saying;
- In November of 2008, I got laid off and I lost all of my health benefits and I totaled my car.
- We didn't have a washer and dryer in our house. So every two weeks we would drive to [50 miles] and I would do laundry. And that's when I would buy groceries because I never wanted anyone in Hillsboro to see that I was using the food stamps to buy the groceries. So yeah, so that was always very awkward.
- I don't plow my driveway ‘cause I don't have a car. Yeah. But I know my neighbors need to get to work.
- I have coworkers like Nancy, she picks me up, we truck together. She picks me up, brings me home and a lot of people help me with that.
Although housing costs are generally lower in small-town rural communities, higher poverty rates and lower incomes create serious challenges concerning affordable housing. Housing for low-income families in rural areas tends to be too expensive, poor quality, unavailable, or inaccessible. Participants of the interviews named this challenge;
- Because you live there, you're stereotyped because it’s low income housing. What people don't understand is the rent is high if you're paying full rent.
- I like the trailer park. A lot of people have a stereotype about that too, but they don't understand that it actually costs to live in the trailer court.
- It's like we're back over here in the outskirts of town.
- Utilities are not cheap. Sometimes your utility bill’s over $300. So how is that so low income? I'm telling you it's not low income, it’s expensive to live there.
- I would like people that quit saying it is so low income, they should try to live there once.
- I have low income housing, that's what it's called.
- It would help if they made a through street. So we're not like just pushed off in the outskirts of town.
- It's like we're at like a dead end and like we're like cut off from the world. That is how I feel, like we're just cut off in the world.
- I wish they would just not forget about us because we're always last…trailer park and low income housing. I’m always last to get plowed because it's like we don't matter.
- There was low income housing available. And so I thought that would be a good thing. I accepted a home over the phone so I didn't go and look at the house that was being offered to us. I got to the house and there were no cupboards, there were no drawers in the kitchen. The ceiling in the bathroom was totally open and all the insulation was on the floor. And the basement had black mold. So I couldn't bring the kids there because [my child] had severe asthma.
- The housing authority said that they would get it taken care of within four weeks. And they didn't.
- Low income, I still, my rent was $500 a month to live there. So even though it was considered low income, I was paying more rent to live down there than a normal renting rental place.
- I was the first woman in the first person under 60 to be on the housing board. And the first thing that happened, my first meeting was a man stood up and said that those people living down there, they hang out at the bars all the time. They're getting knocked up and they don't work. And I stood up being shy, quiet, and I said, excuse me, I said, I work full time. I've never been to the bar.
- In the beginning it was hard because, and I didn't know moving there, I didn't understand what low income housing meant.
- I never said we lived in low income housing. I would always say we lived back behind Stop and Go and people would say, oh, you live over there.
- So then I knew that my boys were getting the reputation of living in low income and, and I hated that.
- It would almost catch people off guard when I said I lived in low income.
- There was a look. Yeah. I hated that look. Yeah. I never wanted the boys to know that look.
- I would hear them talk about the kids that live in low income housing.
- I became defensive of low income people because I was living with low income people and working with the people who were condemning the people.
Concerning rural poverty, discrimination raises its ugly head in a variety of ways. The participants of the interviews identified discrimination stating:
- People have some baseline prejudices.
- It's an ugly, ugly, mean and, and very prejudicial viewpoint of who we think our poverty or impoverished people are.
- People always look down on them.
- It's the whole shame factor where they have to go in and ask permission to get help. I don't agree with that.
- We're always last to get plowed… They just forget about us.
- This comes from a male dominated viewpoint.
- There's a look. It's really subliminal, but it's there.
- If it was a family that had been from Hillsboro… was totally awesome, they were great. But if it was a family who was not known or who had been in the cycle of poverty or had moved to the community, then they had to prove themselves and they got the bad rap and they didn't get respect.
- If you beat the person down and you're telling them that they're not good enough… then you start to believe that you are never going to be good enough.
- Until you've walked a mile in their shoes, you can't judge them.
- It was shaming. It was so much shame.
- I didn't understand that. You don't have to feel shame because you don't have money.
Loss of income/work
While this state’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the United States, securing employment continues to be challenging for low income people. This is what the participants of the interview said;
- I'm falling further and further behind financially. And, what you don't realize is it just takes one, one thing and everything goes wrong.
- I get a phone call saying that they're doing cuts and I lost my job.
- Well then in November of 2008, I got laid off and I lost all of my health benefits and I totaled my car.
- I wanna work, but I just can't, you know, it hurts so bad.
- It's just been really tough. And then, you know, we slowly made it, the wife started cleaning houses and stuff. So we, you know, got, you know, up there to where we were, you know, being to where we could live again, not anything extra, but to where everything was paid and nobody was bothering us. And then I started getting sick.
- We were trying to live off of $1,100 a month. That's pretty much vehicle, you know, go live in your vehicle. And we did that for about three months out in the parking lot at Walmart and, Lowes hardware.
- You're always a half a heartbeat away from dire straits of poverty, which could include homelessness easily.
- I got sick and didn't have insurance, medical insurance and ended up in the hospital and it turned out, life threatening.
- I had no family down there with me, so it was just [my child] and me. So it was really terrifying to all of a sudden realize there's this life and death situation. But then also the reality financially after that was, wow, I didn't work for weeks.
- I was already just living on the edge financially. And so it destroyed me financially. And so I struggled with that for a long time.
This is what they had to say about the financial challenges of raising a child:
- In low income families, there's a lot of single parents.
- A lot of parents can't afford to go to work because they have little kids at home and it's kind of defeating the purpose. They go to just pay childcare.
- I followed the usual pathway of getting married at 18 years old. Not to say that I didn't love him or he didn't love me, but, you know, when you're 17, 18 years old, do you really know who you are?
- We were married about four years and it, it just was never going to last and it didn't.
- I did go to school, but I didn't understand how to be a single mom.
- I couldn't afford babysitters.
- I just couldn't, I couldn't relinquish parental rights. That just was not in my DNA. So it was just terrifying.
- To ask for help would have so humiliating and difficult. That would have taken every ounce of strength she would have had. She would have done it for her kids but for herself.
- And so now they have to go get a second job. Where do the kids go? Where does the childcare come from?
- Our divorce wasn't something I ever planned in my life.
- I was that low income mom, divorced with the two boys living, you know where.
In the interviews I conducted for this research, the most consistent cause of poverty reported by all of the participants was generational poverty also known as cycle of poverty. In economics, the cycle of poverty is the set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention. Without intervention, this cycle typically continues generation to generation. All participants of the interviews had this in common. This is what they said:
- I love my grandma and my grandpa, but I was also resentful to the life I had. You know, looking around at everybody else.
- My whole life I was low and, and judgmental too. Feeling judged and judgmental. I was ashamed of who I was because I was low income my whole life or poor.
- My grandparents were working class and they would never go on the system. They were ashamed of it too. Even if they needed it, they wouldn't have because of those stereotypes.
- My mom worked two jobs when I was growing up. I had to babysit my sisters when I was very young so she could work.
- My parents were kind of transient. It was very much a transient family. I think part of it was a different era, where families had to go where the work was.
- My parents never had any money and worked hard.
- And that's how we were always raised. None of us had, as dad would say, a pot to piss in.
- I kept struggling alone. My mom and my dad would try to help as much as they could, but they had problems.
- My Dad was having health issues and mom was the sole breadwinner and you know, so they were really struggling at that time.
- Family resources were really… they did everything they could, but the bottom line was it wasn't enough.
- My biological family couldn't handle it and my dad wouldn't come around and my mom left.
- I had seen my grandparents have struggle sometimes where I'm like, grandma, why don't you go apply to get some assistance? Nope.
- After my dad left, my mom was sick with her congestive heart failure stuff and I was gone a lot.