“The Economy is soooo good, perhaps the best in our country’s history,” President Donald Trump tweeted back in September, but many whose votes elevated him to the Oval Office are not seeing the gains in their rural communities, as they still await Trump’s long-promised “JOBS JOBS JOBS”.
Times are tough all across rural America. Nationwide numbers paint a rosy picture of accelerating growth and near-full employment. Swaths of the countryside tell a different story, its protagonists barely scraping by as their jobs drain away in the downturns and don’t come back in the booms.
The economic divide maps onto a political one, which only deepened in this month’s midterm elections. President Donald Trump claims credit for a vibrant economy. Yet it’s in the least-vibrant rural areas that his Republicans picked up support -- the same trend that helped Trump get elected two years ago. Cities and suburbs, where the recovery is palpable, swung toward the Democrats.
According to the Washington-based Economic Innovation Group’s Director of Research Kenan Fikri, the countryside is getting left behind, and the trend has only worsened since 2008.
The recession hit most regions equally but “their recovery was wildly different,’’ he says. “Where the jobs came back doesn’t align to where they disappeared.’’
In areas like Clay County, Kentucky — where Trump received 87 percent of the vote, and two-fifths of the population relies on food stamps — not only are jobs failing to materialize as Trump supporters hoped, but they could also see access to federal assistance reduced.
Federal money rescued rural America after the Great Depression of the 1930s, as the government poured resources into job-creating investments. Today, Washington’s main presence in places like Clay County is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It helps with everything from building houses to providing medical services. Clay County got a $50,000 grant this year for an ambulance, an urgent need in a region blighted by opioid addiction.
The agency also helped bring wireless Internet to remote areas. That creates opportunities for people to “make good wages from their home,’’ said Anne Hazlett, the USDA’s assistant to the secretary for rural development.
But the Trump administration plans to cut USDA funding by 16 percent in fiscal 2019, and revamp the food stamps it distributes.
Karrie Gay, the supervisor of family support and social services in Clay County, said it will be “catastrophic” for those she serves if the Trump administration makes cuts to food stamps.
Gay told Bloomberg, “We have a lot of clients who have no income. That’s their only source of food.’’
Nevertheless, Trump will likely retain his support in communities like Clay County, says Iowa State University political scientist David Anderson.
A lot of Trump’s rural supporters “don’t sound as if they expect to get anything out of the administration,’’ says Andersen. Feeling abandoned, they just want to “destroy the system overall,’’ he says -– and Trump was “the first candidate in a very long time’’ to explicitly feed such resentments.