IEDC: What rural America needs to thrive: Five perspectives

By Eli Dile. IEDC

From the New York Times’ Room for Debate series, five experts give their takes on the strategies best suited to help rural America prosper. Their viewpoints are summarized below. What do you think – do they hit the mark?

Broadband and other infrastructure: “In struggling rural areas, there is a need for investment in the physical, natural and technological infrastructure that has been a critical building block for a better economy elsewhere. That entails laying broadband lines, restoring and reforesting degraded land, repairing parks, and renovating housing and building stock to make it more energy efficient.” – Jason Bailey, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

Green energy: “Rural Americans are the stewards of our natural resources, from food to fuel, and they are on the front lines of a new economy that is rooted in cleaner and greener power production. Direct job creation in this sector would be a huge step forward in communities transitioning away from extractive industries like coal.” – Whitney Kimball Coe, Center for Rural Strategies

Balanced trade and subsidies: “Issuing a dollar’s worth of import licenses for every dollar of exports balances trade without restricting it. There are plenty of competitive American products to buy. We must also recognize that low-wage workers are high-cost workers. That’s why they are the first workers laid off in a recession and the last workers rehired. Don’t raise the minimum wage, which excludes the lowest-skilled workers. Subsidize low-wage employers, instead of vilifying them, to create more demand for low-skilled workers. Reconsider incentives that discourage work. And reduce restrictions on construction to lower the cost of housing.” – Edward Conard, American Enterprise Institute

Listening skills: “[M]any rural residents struggle with a broken local economy at the same time that they resent any government-oriented approach to fix it. Genuinely listening to people in rural America would not only help politicians craft better policy, but it could convey some of the sincerity necessary to overcome the rampant distrust of government that resides in many of our rural, overlooked places.” – Katherine Cramer, Morgridge Center for Public Service, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Reasons for optimism: “Rural populations have stabilized and are beginning to grow, the Agriculture Department reported earlier this year. Then we learned that rural counties had added more than 250,000 jobs in 2014 and 2015. As a result, the rural unemployment rate has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2007.” – Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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