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Study Finds Rural Areas Also Have An Underclass

March 2, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rural America is dotted with pockets of poverty that rival inner-city ghettos in terms of the depth and persistence of deprivation, according to a study released today.

The Population Reference Bureau said the rural underclass stretches from Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta to farming communities on the northern Plains, disputing the popular notion that poverty is mainly an urban phenomenon.

According to the study, there were more than 3 million adults, ages 19 to 64, in the underclass in 1990. Nearly one-quarter, or approximately 736,000 adults, live in rural areas.

The study defines the underclass population as adults who have not completed high school and who receive public assistance. If female, they are never-married mothers, and if male, are long-term unemployed.

The makeup of the rural underclass is 55 percent white, compared with only 17 percent in central cities. About one-third of the rural underclass is black, compared with nearly half of the urban underclass.

The rural underclass is concentrated in the South, the report said, while the urban underclass is more evenly divided among the four regions of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the rural underclass live in the South, which is the only region where the underclass rate is higher for rural residents, 3.5 percent, than for urban residents, 2.6 percent.

Overall, the underclass accounts for 2.1 percent of the adult population, said the report by the Population Reference Bureau, a non-profit organization that studies and analyzes population issues. The study was based on Census Bureau data.

″Rural areas have been largely ignored by underclass scholars despite the fact that the rural poor are more likely than the urban poor to be long-term poor,″ it said.

″Ethnographic research suggests that there are pockets of rural poverty that rival inner-city ghettos in terms of depth and persistence of poverty and deprivation,″ the report said. ″While some of these areas are places of longstanding poverty, such as Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta, others are relatively new, such as farming communities of the northern Plains.″

It said economic restructuring of rural areas may be contributing to the growth of a rural underclass. Many of the industries that are the backbone of the rural economy - farming, mining, timber and manufacturing - all suffered declines in the 1980s.

And because most rural areas are heavily dependent on single industries, they are extremely vulnerable to changes in the economy and the options for those thrown out of work are more limited.

″The changing role of American workers within a national and international economy is at the root of many of the problems being experienced by the poor in cities and rural areas,″ the report said.

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