the Washington post and the Kaiser Family Foundation published the results of a pretty interesting poll today. It focuses on the rural-urban divide and seems to suggest that although people living in rural areas are more likely to to say that jobs and the economy are a big concern, they to feel almost as positively as city dwellers. For example, 29% of rural say the biggest problem in their community is jobs and the economy, against only 10% for city dwellers. About 30 percent say job opportunities are good against 50 percent for city dwellers.
But then there is this:
All of these are almost identical. The general happiness is the same, the number of unemployed is about the same and the optimism about the future is about the same. This same dynamic is playing out elsewhere. In rural areas, 67 percent to say their community is heavily dependent on government assistance. But this perception does not correspond to reality:
Asked about their personal situation, only about 20% report relying on government programs, and there is very little difference between rural and urban areas.
Rural areas are unquestionably poorer than urban areas: at the bottom of the scale there is more poverty and at the top of the scale there are fewer rich. Beyond this, however, perceptions of rural on their communities are at odds with what they report on their personal lives.
There are obvious reasons for this difference between perception and reality. The most obvious is simply the size of the community. The Great Recession affected urban and rural areas in much the same way, but when unemployment rises in a city, it’s a diffuse problem that doesn’t seem necessarily related to live in a city. Conversely, when the same thing happens in a small town, it is probably because a factory has laid off 10% of its workforce. It’s a blow to the stomach that makes you lose your faith in your city. Likewise, when someone in a small town decides to relocate to look for a job elsewhere, there’s a good chance it’s someone you know. In a town, it’s just the guy down the hall that you nod from time to time.
Conclusion: rural areas are probably doing worse than cities on a number of economic parameters. But only a little worse. The big difference lies mainly in the perception of the gravity of things.
And one more thing:
Asked what the most important thing the government can do to improve its economy is not clamp down on immigration or better trade deals. It’s the infrastructure. This is what they want.