There are a wide range of important reasons why rural America needs passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.
One of the most pressing is to grow the rural economy in a way that creates new jobs and reverses the troubling decline in population that we’ve seen recently in America’s small towns.
This week, USDA’s Economic Research Service released its annual report on the economic condition of rural America – the 2013 Rural America at a Glance report. The data in this report underscores the challenges of stagnant job growth and persistent poverty faced by many communities across rural America.
Rural America shared in the economic recovery following the Great Recession. Unfortunately, job growth has leveled off in rural areas over the past 18 months and rural areas are creating jobs at a slower rate than our cities.
Persistent poverty still plagues many rural areas. More than 570 of America’s 703 high-poverty counties are in rural America, with many of these counties experiencing persistently high poverty that lasts several decades.
And, rural America has continued to lose population in real terms. Between 2010 and 2012, rural communities saw a drop of more than 44,000 people, which is unprecedented in recent decades.
To reverse these trends, we need a renewed national commitment to economic growth in rural America. Since 2009, USDA has carried out a wide range of efforts to assist rural communities, grow the rural economy and save jobs. In addition to these investments we have worked across the Obama Administration to explore new pathways to growth.
These include the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative that targets USDA technical assistance in areas of high poverty, and the White House Rural Council that has brought many different Federal agencies to bear in providing coordinated help for small towns and rural communities.
But to continue providing assistance in rural America and creating a foundation for future economic growth, we need Congress to provide a new, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible. A new Farm Bill would grow the economy, keep people in our small towns and attract new residents.
It would invest to further increase agricultural exports, and strengthen new markets for agriculture – while reforming the farm safety net in a way that reduces the deficit and ensures needed assistance for our farmers and ranchers.
It would pave the way for innovative new conservation opportunities that could create new wealth in rural areas while protecting our land and water for future generations.
It would spur new opportunities to manufacture biobased products and energy from homegrown materials, which hold a very promising future for job creation in rural America.
The Farm Bill would maintain critical nutrition assistance that helps millions of vulnerable Americans, including children, seniors, people with disabilities and returning veterans.
And the Farm Bill would further invest in the future of Main Street businesses and communities, complementing the Administration’s innovative efforts through the Rural Council and StrikeForce initiative.
This week’s economic report highlights the need to create new opportunity in rural America, grow the economy in our small towns and create new jobs. We can achieve these goals in partnership with communities across the nation – but it is critically important that Congress provide a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that strengthens this important work.