Poverty and Human Services
The Rural Human Services Landscape Today
Poverty rates in rural areas have fallen significantly from their high-levels in the mid-20th Century and the vast geographic spread we saw at the time is now concentrated in a few geographic areas. Over the last decade, the rate has remained stubbornly consistent and is still generally concentrated in those few geographic areas. Along the continuum of the most urban to rural counties, poverty rates are highest in the most remote rural areas and generally more persistent and higher in nonmetropolitan areas. High and persistent poverty counties are disproportionately rural as well. Of the 353 persistent poverty counties, 85.3 percent of them are rural and geographically concentrated – in Appalachia, the southeast and Mississippi Delta, the Rio Grande Valley, and Indian Reservations in the Great Plains and Southwest. The rate has even risen in some cases, particularly for rural youth, over the last decade.
As a result of the higher poverty rates, assistance through the rural human service delivery system should be robust and easily accessible, but that is not the case in most rural areas. Public sector human service funding is dwindling and has only increased the challenges rural residents face in accessing services. Rural communities have many individuals with multiple and complex needs for the human service delivery system to address. At times, even the most basic essential services may not be accessible or may not even exist. The non-profit safety-net sector is scarce and services are spread thin across a vast geography. Often times, very informal networks such as faith-based organizations, civic groups, and neighbors form the rural safety-net. This is consistent with the self-reliant nature of rural communities, but does not constitute a robust human service delivery system.
Rural Human Services Panel
RUPRI’s Rural Human Service Panel was formed in 2008 to examine the rural human services infrastructure and the consequences of this infrastructure on rural people in need of services. The Panel believes that an integrated human service system – both within human service delivery field and aligned with the health care delivery system – with available flexible funding and a person-centric, rather than program-centric, delivery model will provide better outcomes for rural people and is well-suited to the reality and circumstances of rural human service needs.
There are always challenges to rural human service delivery, but the current economic crisis has brought much additional demand and pressure on rural human service providers. The RUPRI Rural Human Services Panel is creating timely research and policy tools to assist in meeting these challenges.
A Call To Action
The RUPRI Rural Human Services Panel envisions a system of rural human services delivery in
this nation that responds to the unique social and environmental characteristics of rural America,
and that are sufficiently resourced to serve the needs of its people. These systems of care and
services will have the following characteristics:
- All individuals and families will have reasonable access to essential human and social
services from wherever they may reside.
- Public funding for rural human services take into consideration the increased burden of
costs created by geography, distance, diseconomies of scale due to the size, and
distribution of the population in rural service regions.
- Delivery systems that emphasize prevention and early intervention, and are responsive to
the changing cultural, ethnic, and age diversity of rural populations.
- Delivery systems that recognize, respect, and support the inherent creativity, resiliency
and culture of rural residents and communities.
- Systems that encourage local and regional empowerment, efficient coordination of
services, and allow programmatic flexibility, administrative simplicity, and mutually
- Advance the understanding of the rural differential of human service delivery and finance
- Effect needed change in policy and practice through the dissemination of realistic policy
and practice recommendations
Rural Human Services Panel Membership
Members of the RUPRI Rural Human Services Panel hail from across the country and represent a diversity of rural constituents. Their expertise covers a wide range of human service issues, including poverty research, child welfare, community development, service delivery administration, immigrants and migrant workers, and legal justice.
Kathleen Belanger, Associate Professor of Social Work at Stephen F. Austin State University
Vaughn Clark, Director of Community Development at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce
Larry Goolsby, Director Legislative Affairs and Policy, American Public Human Services Association
Mario Gutierrez (panel chair), Senior Program Officer, California Connected Policy Institute
Colleen Heflin, Associate Professor, Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri
Jane Forrest Redfern, Executive Director, Dairy Barn, Ohio
Connie Stewart, Executive Director, California Center for Rural Policy, Humboldt State University
Bruce Weber, Professor of Applied Economics and Director of the Rural Studies Program, Oregon State University
The Rural Poverty Research Center
Since its founding, RUPRI has recognized the vast swaths of poverty across the rural geography and worked to understand its impact on rural economies and social structures. This work has been conducted and disseminated through various methods. From 2002 through 2005, RUPRI operated the Rural Poverty Research Center through a grant from the US Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation. The Center worked to examine both the causes and consequences of poverty in rural areas and the factors affecting the success of policies to improve the self-sufficiency and well-being of low income workers and families in rural America.
One of the most significant outcomes of this Center was the development of a cadre of young rural poverty scholars through the Rural Poverty Emerging Scholars Program. These young scholars are now located at major academic institutions around the world. They continue to collaborate with RUPRI on rural poverty research and have broadened the poverty research field’s attention to the specifics of rural poverty.