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The scoop

FARMERS IN rural Midwestern states should feel good about the positive news in a research report from the University of Illinois. The researchers found that rural America is prosperous. You may chuckle about this, but it is big news because some people think “rural prosperity” is an oxymoron. Generally “rural” is teamed up with the word “poverty” in economic discussions.

The university study concluded that “hundreds of rural areas are more prosperous than the nation as a whole.” This may be a revelation to government statisticians. University researchers used a different way to define rural than what the government uses. The government categorizes counties as either urban or rural, which puts rural areas that are near metro areas into the rural category. The problems in those counties are very different than those in rural farm areas. Instead, the researchers defined a rural county as having 90% of its population in rural areas and no urban centers with more than 10,000 people.

Then the researchers looked at prosperity indicators like unemployment, poverty and high school dropout rates. Government statisticians look only at growth.

The university results show that more than half the rural counties in the Midwest outperform the nation in all indicators. In these rural areas, people tend to be more educated, and the areas have fewer high school dropouts. Poverty rates and unemployment are low. And in prosperous counties, more people are members of civically engaged religious groups. The study concludes that “prosperity is a useful, new lens through which to consider the rural condition and rural policy.”

Read more about the report at

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