Donna Resendez

Recently, the Joint Economic Committee Democrats released a report that evaluated that state of the economy in rural communities, and proposed policies that could help them. Donna Resendez examines this report, with the help of a JEC press conference featuring Senator Martin Heinrich.

There are 46 million rural residents in the United States, which is 14% of the total population. This group of people plays a key role in our country’s economy and agriculture. Yet, rural families on average earn 25% less than their urban counterparts, according to the JEC’s recent report, entitled “Investing in Rural America.” Senator Martin Heinrich, Ranking Member of the Joint Economic Committee, wants to tackle the issues that rural communities are facing.

“Expanding economic opportunities for rural Americans is vital to the strength of our economy as a whole. Our report does not shy away from some very tough facts. Many rural communities are still recovering from the great recession over a decade after it hit us. Millions of rural residents lack reliable access to broadband. The rural population is aging, is shrinking, and wages have been stagnant for far too long. We cannot ignore these challenges: we have to tackle them head on.”

While rural populations face a variety of challenges, the JEC report also found many positives that exist within these communities, as Senator Heinrich discusses.

“Rural communities are leading the way as the country moves more of its’ energy production to renewables, particularly with wind development. Outdoor recreation opportunities are not just at the center of life in rural communities, but also drive very important economic opportunities and growth. K through twelve education in rural communities boast small class sizes and high levels of parent engagement. To build on these strengths we need targeted policies and investments that will spur growth in rural communities, and improve the lives of families who live there.”

Heinrich mentioned the benefit of education in rural communities, however, there is a lack of educators in these areas. To help combat this issue, Heinrich suggests offering incentives to teachers.

“One of the things that is particularly important is housing incentives, and oftentimes in rural areas you have the ability to even get into owner-occupied housing, as opposed to renting, early in your career. Those are some of the things you can do to incentivize folks to start their teaching career in a rural community, and if they start their teaching career in a rural community, they’re likely to stay in that community.”

Housing incentives for teachers are just one example of the many ideas that the JEC has for improving the lives of people living in rural communities. Heinrich shares a few more.

“It’s about connecting rural America. Broadband is absolutely the key, and can literally connect people to work. No other policy will do as much to open doors for opportunity: ensuring that all Americans have high-speed internet. We have to do a lot more than that. We need real and robust investments in physical infrastructure, once again, as well. Building and maintaining the roads, the railways, the bridges, and the water systems that rural residents and businesses rely on – and that will support new economic development. And we need to do more to attract businesses, and retain residents. For example, expanding access to early childhood education and childcare will help more families locate in rural communities, and so will additional postsecondary options for rural communities – many of which lack access to college or community college within an hour’s drive. Those are just a few proposals. The reality is that we need to tackle this on many fronts”

The JEC Democrats have many ideas about improving the lives of rural Americans. 

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