When we talk about the struggle to find affordable housing, we often think about apartments in big cities like San Francisco, not rural communities in Oklahoma. While in the city of Orlando or in the Bronx the rental cost between a 1-bedroom apartment and a rental in rural Kentucky are monumentally different, so are the unemployment rates, living wages, and opportunities. Let’s take a look at how hard rural America has been hit by rising costs and substandard housing.
Rural Americans are Struggling to Pay Rent
Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, rural America is having trouble staying afloat. A study by Pew’s Stateline found that 25% of rural counties have seen a dramatic increase in cost-burdened households. These numbers indicate that one of four of America’s most-rural counties spends more than half of their earned income on housing.
Stagnant or non-existing wages coupled with a decrease in supply and an increase in home costs are at the forefront of the rural housing epidemic. Loss of lucrative coal mining jobs in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia leads to limited government assistance and loss of income, making it hard to meet rent or mortgage payments.
A Changing Demographic
Rural America has been steadily losing population while America’s largest cities are gaining at a rate of 8% over the last 10 years according to a Goldman Sachs report. Rural America’s youth is leaving at an alarming rate for better opportunities. The average age of a rural American is in the early 40s. The average age in large cities is in the mid-30s. Slow job growth combined with an aging population and changing technology has driven up costs and pushed many rural Americans from their homes.
New Jobs Bring Benefits and Drawbacks
The effect a manufacturing plant closing has on a population of 2,000 can be devastating with so many lost paychecks in such a short period. However, the same is true of a new business opening up in an area with limited housing. That’s what happened in Irion County, Texas when new wind farms brought workers to an area with a population of 1,516.
Unemployment dropped 2.1 percentage points, but rent costs rose 44%. While the new jobs are lucrative opportunities for those coming to work, if you already live in the area on a limited income, your cost of living just skyrocketed and you’re struggling to make ends meet.
Thinking About a Solution
While there is no one correct way to fix the rural housing problem, federal investments in affordable housing could decrease cost burdens on rural Americans. Without support for the U.S Department of Agriculture’s assistance for affordable rental properties in rural counties program, called Section 515, the crisis may worsen. The program has not had funding since 2011.