Our country has an incredible opportunity, as we build back from a pandemic and the economic toll that has taken on many communities, to drive shared economic growth and prosperity. To better understand how the policies referenced in this document can help rebuild rural communities, it is important to understand how policy choices from our recent past have contributed to growing disparities for many rural communities.
These disparities are not simply a function of macro economic trends, but also driven to a great degree by policy priorities of leaders in Washington – from both parties. The historical trends highlighted below are, admittedly, incomplete. But they provide a narrative framework to help understand how the economic decline experienced in many rural communities is not an inevitability and can be reversed.
SOME IMPORTANT TRENDS IN THE LAST FORTY YEARS:
THE REAGAN/BUSH ERA
Rural communities were hit hard in this period by policies that focused on cuts in government funding and services. Concentrated corporate power, the War on Drugs, and a farm price crisis began to reshape rural people’s views of government. The emerging narratives of “jobs versus the environment” and “deregulation” were popularized by many conservative leaders.
THE CLINTON NINETIES
THE GEORGE W. BUSH YEARS
THE OBAMA YEARS
THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION
Progressives may have been skeptical of Joe Biden, but the first years of the Administration has renewed hope for an economy that works for everyone and builds greater shared prosperity. The $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan funded key programs for public health, economic recovery, and job growth and represents one of the most important pieces of legislation for working people and rural Americans in a generation. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will deliver clean water, expand access to reliable high-speed internet, and fund the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history. The Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy calls for new and better rules to lower prescription drug prices, increase wages, expand internet access, and establish the “right to repair” which empowers people to fix their equipment and property without going to an authorized agent.
But the investment needed to rebuild our economy and set rural America on a path toward more sustainable economic growth is greater still. The opportunity to transform our economy and rural communities is tantalizingly close, and we hope the progressive movement will lock arms with rural Americans to help make this a reality.