In trying to address the problems of poverty, drug abuse, and a lack of economic opportunities, philanthropic giving has often concentrated on urban areas given the high concentration of people and therefore a higher rate of problems. While it is true that cities are often hard hit by a host of problems, rural communities are also suffering from many societal issues and are in need of attention, study, and aid.
Individuals experiencing rural poverty often lack the opportunities afforded to urban dwellers, such as museums, universities, libraries, and successful individuals who can model upward mobility. Another problem inherent in studying rural communities mired in poverty is that many experts, social justice organizations, and advocates live in urban areas and suburbs and are not aware of how entrenched rural poverty can be.
In seeking to address the problems of poverty and racial inequality, many people are aware of the historical concentrations of minorities in urban areas, but they conflate rural with white populations. Yet, as Allen Smart mentioned in his opinion piece “Philanthropic Funding for Equality Can’t Exclude Rural,” there are now 13 million rural residents who are people of color, 54% are Indigenous peoples, 2 million are immigrants, and many residents are older individuals.
One dilemma in approaching the issue of rural poverty is the paradox of training and educating people for jobs that are in the community that are poorly paid or educating them and then watching as talented young people leave their communities to pursue jobs elsewhere. An apocryphal quote from an influential executive at a philanthropic foundation has it that the most expedient solution to end rural poverty was to give the people experiencing it a one-way bus ticket to the city. In reality, we can increase education on cottage industry type initiatives that can thrive in rural communities as well as urban areas.
Lack of Visibility
Rural areas often also suffer from a lack of charitable giving on both the local and national levels. Philanthropic grant money needed to improve affordable housing, eradicate poverty, foster community development, and fight the drug epidemic, including opiates and meth, is often scarce. In short, while the world needs to contribute philanthropic dollars and societal support to urban areas, rural regions are also fighting on those same frontiers, and often with less support, charitable infrastructure, less attention, and fewer resources.
Philanthropic organizations must address problems in rural communities, as well as urban areas, to achieve national social, racial, and economic health.