Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 10:24 pm | Fair 48º


Peter Funt: Rural America Struggling Without More Federal Help

There are 14,321 Dollar General stores in America. It’s a chain that many shoppers have never heard of, yet it has more stores than Starbucks.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Dollar General company is worth $22 billion — far more than the nation’s largest grocery chain, Kroger, which has five times the revenue.

Sadly, however, Dollar General is thriving because, as the Journal puts it, “rural America is struggling.” The chain builds stores where folks are down on their luck, where 20 percent of customers receive government assistance, and where even Walmart won’t bother doing business.

I phoned several Dollar General stores and learned that none sells fresh meat or produce; the grocery aisles feature mostly canned and frozen goods. Many products, such as soft drinks, come in mini sizes to keep unit prices low. And not a single store had any newspapers for sale.

Maybe that’s just as well, because headlines these days report that the stock market is remarkably high and unemployment is surprisingly low. But for rural America, news like that doesn’t hit home.

Things are looking up in President Donald Trump’s America, except, of course, where they are not.

The administration’s proudest accomplishment is a tax bill that benefits millionaires and billionaires. The Joint Committee on Taxation finds that the Senate version of the bill would increase taxes on all Americans making less than $75,000 a year.

As Paul Krugman summarizes in The New York Times: “Everything this president and this Congress are doing on economic policy seems designed, not just to widen the gap between the wealthy and everyone else, but to lock in plutocrats’ advantages, making it easier to ensure that their heirs remain on top and the rest stay down.”

In rural America, where about 46 million people reside, employment and economic growth have not recovered from the last recession at a pace seen elsewhere in the nation. Childhood poverty — perhaps the most critical metric in determining a population’s well-being — is considerably higher in rural areas than in urban centers.

The crisis facing rural America is rooted in the fact that peak-level employment related to natural resources, such as mining and logging, is never coming back.

Rural America is mired in a permanent recession. Its problems are difficult to correct because of a sprawling landscape, scattered government support structures and what often seems to be federal indifference.

Many among the predominantly white rural population voted for Trump in 2016 — a sign, perhaps, of utter desperation rather than considered opinion. But according to recent reporting by Politico, Trump now intends to make the most sweeping changes to federal safety net programs in a generation, using legislation and executive actions to target recipients of food stamps, Medicaid and housing benefits.

What the rural poor need is greater federal assistance, not less. They would welcome jobs such as repairing the nation’s infrastructure, which Trump campaigned on but doesn’t mention much these days.

As things stand, you don’t need a degree in economics to predict rural America’s future. Just consider: By this time next year Dollar General expects to have nearly 1,000 more stores.

Peter Funt is a writer, speaker and author of the book, Cautiously Optimistic. He is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and can be contacted at www.candidcamera.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.