Sunday, October 05, 2008

On the Virtues and Vices of Rural America

Via Rod Dreher, an article in Reason entitled, "Palin's Small-Town Snobbery," which turns out is not limited to Palin, but is fairly widespread among the 20% of the country that does NOT live in cities and suburbs, and treated indulgently by the other 80%.

I spent five years of my childhood in a town with a population of 300. The county seat was about half an hour away, which seemed like a long way as a child since we didn't go there but once every few weeks, although I realize that today it isn't even that much of a commute. My feelings about living there are decidedly mixed; more on this later. But first, the Reason article:

Nor is the countryside exempt from social problems often associated with the inner city—such as, if you'll forgive me, out-of-wedlock births. The federal government apparently doesn't tabulate these births according to whether they occur in urban or rural areas. But it does break them down by state, and wide-open spaces are no guarantee of responsible sexual behavior.

The highest rates of births to unwed mothers are in Mississippi and New Mexico, both of which have high rural populations. The most urban states, New Jersey and California, do better than the average in out-of-wedlock births.

Let's check the demographics of Mississippi and New Mexico. Yup, just as expected. What I did not expect was that Reason's editors would be so far off their game as to allow this kind of cherry picking. Did no one think that the fact that Mississippi is 30% black, or that New Mexico is 40% Latino and 10% American Indian, might be driving those kind of statistics?

Other features of small town life, such as higher rates of drug and alcohol use among teens, are more complex, as the author is happy to concede in the case of it's lower crime rate. Still, though, Palin's reverse snobbery did not occur in a vacuum. Her paeon to small town life was her response to being endlessly dismissed as "the mayor of a town of 9000." Here again, Reason seems to have forgotten who picked that particular fight.

I'll write a separate post on my experience of small town life.

1 comment:

trumwill said...

I look forward to hearing about your experience of small town life. I'll probably have to do a post of my own on the subject this week.

As far as the whole pregnancy thing goes, you're right that racial demographics play a role as does a number of other things.

My wife has had the... honor... of serving a diverse cross-section of the underclass. Poor urbanish blacks in the south, poor whites in the west, poor immigrants in the southwest, and poor tribespeople on a reservation. From her description, there isn't a whole lot separating them. Their self-defeating habits combined welfare combined with the (perceived or real) lack of economic opportunity can be extremely problematic.

That brings me to another thing that you have to consider when looking at rural Americans. They often live in economically troubled regions. Palin's comments strike me as being of relative humility. They are working from a disadvantage but trying to persevere all the same. The urban types that she's criticizing aren't.