Urban Research Monitor

The current economic good times have lifted many individuals and communities out of poverty, but millions of Americans in rural areas and small towns are still impoverished. How can this dichotomy be explained and, more important, what can be done to lift these Americans out of economic deprivation?

Two new publications take a fresh look at this deeply challenging question. Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America draws on 5 years of indepth interviews with 350 people and on a century of U.S. census data to describe how social life and community institutions can conspire to keep families in some regions mired in poverty. Author and sociologist Cynthia M. Duncan concludes that a strong, civic-minded middle class generally will produce a community with a low level of poverty. Saying this, however, is much simpler than making it happen.

In Working Hard and Making Do: Surviving in Small Town America, Margaret K. Nelson and Joan Smith take a slightly different tack by examining what it takes for a small town family in rural Vermont to survive in the new economy. Through a combination of interviews and telephone surveys, the authors conclude that, if the goal is to stabilize rural families, the nation is moving in the wrong direction.

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