Hardship in the Hinterlands

Source: Medicaid in Small Towns and Rural America: A Lifeline for Children, Families, and Communities

Rural America is in trouble. As The Wall Street Journal recently noted: “In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings.”

Sadly, the phenomenon is impacting New Mexico in a big way. The U.S. Census Bureau’s new population data show that a whopping 24 of the Land of Enchantment’s 33 counties, all of them rural, lost residents between 2011 and 2016. (The gainers were Bernalillo, Curry, Doña Ana, Lea, Luna, McKinley, Sandoval, Santa Fe, and Taos. Most of the nine saw very modest increases.)

But wait, there’s more. A new analysis by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina’s Rural Health Research Program found that 59 percent of children in small towns/rural areas in New Mexico were on Medicaid in 2014-2015. For adults, the share was 27 percent — 4th among the states, and a gain of 12 percentage points since 2008-2009.

So much for the “Rural Jobs Tax Credit,” as well as the other schemes New Mexico pols have concocted to revive the economy out in the sticks.

While there is zero evidence that urban cores are enjoying a revival, Americans, and New Mexicans, prefer to live in metro regions. (Preferably in a detached home, with a decent yard, and within easy driving distance of a Costco, Home Depot, and Chipotle.) Rural regions are hollowing out, and for those who remain, life appears to be rougher than ever. It’s a severe, and increasingly expensive, public problem.