Hard Living in America’s Heartland

Rural Poverty in the 21st Century Midwest

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About the Book

Despite living hard, endlessly challenging lives, the rural poor remain tirelessly optimistic, believing things will get better next year. As one struggling farmer explained, “Sometimes I feel like a jackass in a hailstorm—I just have to stand here and take it…but what the hell—it’ll stop hailing sooner or later.”
The struggle to survive on the richest farmland in America has produced some of the nation’s poorest people. However, rural poverty is not the same as urban poverty: the usual definitions and criteria do not always apply, the known predictors do not necessarily hold up, and again and again the rural poor save themselves because they know no one else will.
This book refutes the common image of the poor as lazy slackers averse to work. In reality, fiercely independent, politically astute, hard-working men and women who possess a wide array of useful skills populate the rural heartland—and they struggle to stay afloat in small-town economies that rise and fall on the whims of remote farm policy decisions, a volatile world marketplace and Mother Nature, who is a fickle, wildly unpredictable business partner.

About the Author(s)

Paula vW. Dáil is an emerita research professor in social welfare and public policy. Widely published in the social sciences, she is a political activist, former journalist, and award-winning non-fiction writer. She lives in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley of Southwestern Wisconsin.

Bibliographic Details

Paula vW. Dáil
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 276
Bibliographic Info: 12 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7481-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1838-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments xi

Preface 1

Introduction: Poverty in the Rural Midwest—If You Can Find It 11

Maps of Poverty Regions in Midwestern States 29

1. We Ain’t Got Much, But We Got Plenty: Understanding Rural Poverty When the Usual Criteria Don’t Apply 43

2. Living off the Land: A Brief History of Rural Midwestern America 58

3. America’s Heartland: Life in the Midwestern Farm States 86

4. Feeding Candy to the Cows: The Rural Midwestern Farm Economy 104

5. Get Big or Get Out: Rural America Moves into the 21st Century 135

6. Throwing Cow Chips for Entertainment: The Pluses and Minuses of Rural Community Life 154

7. Poverty Makes You Sick: The Rural Health Care Problem 166

8. One-Cop Towns: Rural Crime and Punishment 193

9. Go to School or Go to Work? Is Formal Education the Answer? 205

10. Conclusion: The Invisible Poor 228

Appendix One: Methodology and Interview Schedules 235

Appendix Two: Agricultural Traits of Midwestern Farm States 239

Appendix Three: Medicaid Eligibility Groups and Services 245

Chapter Notes 251

Bibliography 261

Index 236