Those living in rural America have long held a “woe is me” attitude. They claim that they are unfairly treated by “urban elites.” They believe our government favors those who live in the cities – that most of their taxes go towards the building of urban freeways and what they perceive as unwarranted welfare assistance for “inner city residents”, i.e. people of color.
Certainly, there are misunderstandings on both sides. Too often, movies and televisions shows have portrayed rural Americans as country bumpkins. And some of those living in coastal cities consider the rest of America “flyover” country. Yet the truth is that rural Americans have advantages that all but the wealthiest of urban Americans don’t. And, if they ever took the time to look at statistics, they’d be in for a rude awakening.
For example, it has long been documented that the cost per capita of building and maintaining roads in rural areas is far greater than in large cities. So, too, is the cost of building and maintaining electric lines and communications. The cost of living in rural areas is far lower than in cities. And, though many rural states contribute less federal revenue than others, they receive more in benefits. In descending order, MS, LA, TN, MT, KY, MO and SD are the states that rely most on federal aid. Most of these are rural. And, when it comes to politics, most of them are bright, bright red.
Those living in the least populous states also have disproportionate representation in the Senate and the electoral college. For the most part, the sea of red you saw on the electoral map following the 2016 election was more a representation of geography than voters. There were nearly 3 million more votes for the Democratic presidential candidate. And there were more than 6 million more votes for Democratic Senate candidates. Yet Republicans took control of both the White House and the Senate. That’s because of a growing disparity in the population of states. For example, people in Wyoming now have 4 times the representation in the electoral college as those living in California. And the votes of those living in Vermont and North Dakota count far more than the votes of those living in New York and Florida.
Instead of one person one vote, in rural states, one person has the equivalent of two, three or four votes!
Is it any wonder then that politicians pander to those in rural areas? Why Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have disproportionate sway in our electoral process? Why farmers have received subsidies during Trump’s trade war and others affected – particularly those in cities – have not? Of course, the farm subsidies are nothing new. And American farmers are not the only ones who benefit. A recent report states that, worldwide, farming subsidies add up to roughly $1 trillion or approximately $1 million per minute! Of those, US farmers receive about $50 billion a year, not including the $28 billion in subsidies that have resulted from Trump’s trade war with China.
Yet, despite the subsidies and electoral advantages, many rural Americans continue to struggle financially. That’s because half of the annual farm subsidies are received by farmers making $100,000 or more per year. And the top 10 per cent receive 77 percent of the subsidies. There is little real benefit for smaller farmers and small town merchants. More disturbing, the subsidies often result in the destruction of forests and wetlands. They exacerbate pollution of streams and oceans. And they often encourage over-production, which drives down the prices of crops, which, in turn, encourages even more production.
Moreover, there are no such subsidies to supplement the incomes of small retailers and other small businesses in urban areas. No subsidies to protect them from the effects of governmental decisions as there are for farmers and large corporations.
The truth is, many of those living in rural areas enjoy advantages their urban brothers and sisters do not. And while they complain that the “urban elites” don’t understand their problems. They have little understanding of the problems faced by the urban homeless and the millions who are working in expensive cities for minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet. For instance, it now takes two-and-a-half full time jobs at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom apartment in most cities.
Instead of using their outsized voting clout to elect politicians who will actually improve their situation, rural Americans tend to believe those who blame their problems on immigrants, minorities and others. But, until they reject the politics of fear and hatred, their situation is unlikely to improve.