Iowa Press; 1614; Rural Poverty
I would press show 16 14 like 20 or 50. Take 20 of the January 22nd 9. The. A. Major funding for this program was provided by friends of Iowa Public Television. Why it wasn't the money it was all the reply. Thousands of ones are still living and. Have nothing left in their cupboards. We want anybody to know that I don't have anything.
Tonight and I will press. We look at rural poverty can solutions be found or has small town Iowa become Iowa's new poor. This is the Sunday January 22nd EDITION. Here is the. Good evening new manufacturing. Higher tax revenue is an improved farm economy all indicate that Iowa may be ready for recovery. And while the poverty rate in Iowa may still be higher than it was 10 years ago even it is beginning to decline. As of 1986 the latest year for which statistics are available. Twelve point seven percent of Iowa's population was considered to be low income or living in poverty. But not everyone may be benefiting from Iowa's revitalization. According to an Iowa Department of Education study of 1986 tax returns the counties with the worst rates of
poverty were rural with poverty rates as high as 23 and a half percent more urban counties had a smaller proportion of poor low 7.3 percent for example in Story County. Northeast Iowa is one part of the state that has not yet felt the effects of a burgeoning Iowa economy. And as Wayne Bruin's reports poverty there is still very real. From a distance the rolling hills and gentle landscapes of Clayton County make it hard to imagine that anything could be wrong here. But a closer look shows something very different. Abandoned farm houses close businesses rural poverty in Clayton County a predominately rural county. One out of every five people live below the federal guidelines for poverty. There are some obvious successes here. New manufacturing and increased tourism for many families are still suffering.
OK and Richard Traister know what it's like to be poor in 1986 they filed for bankruptcy and lost their farm near allocator. Today they ran another farm where they milk about 30 cattle. He didn't have nothing. They gave you a vehicle one vehicle dried it took a lot of machinery it took to pick it up and I just the idea they were taking everything from you. When their money ran out after the bankruptcy the traders sought help mainly in the form of fuel assistance and access to a local food pantry they say rely on others handouts was difficult but better than letting their family go hungry and cold. I mean your farmers and then you have to go out and get help. It was really rough that first week. OK tell yourself you know you don't tell us about your troubles. Finally got to a point maybe talk some friends if you dare to let it out. Find out there's a lot more I'm out there with the same problems.
Many of the county's poor come here to the Clayton County food shelter started five years ago. It provides food to about 65 low income families each month. Upstairs needy families can receive clothes the clothes in a lot of Thomas helps out when she can. She is a volunteer for Vista volunteers in service to America. Two years ago business started a project in northeast Iowa to help farmers hit hardest by the farm crisis. Today Thomas helps impoverished farmers and other rural people get the assistance they need. I visited a farm family who had eaten eggs for a week before they decided that they had to do something else to feed their children. I was in another family where they had had nothing but corn meal no longer had sugar and milk to put on that day for the lady of the House decided that she needed to have some help. Thomas says that in recent months more of our attention has been directed to rural people who are not farmers. Only 30 percent of the people who use a local food show are
directly involved in farming. But Thomas says the problems are still the same. Trying to convince people to accept help when they most need it they don't want their neighbor to know that they're having a problem. They don't want the people at their church to know and they're holding this all inside even the children are told not to discuss it at school if they haven't had anything to eat. They don't tell you at school that they don't have anything for breakfast. And Richard no longer receive public assistance but they still worry about the future. They say their income now covers expenses but just barely. They always plan to send their children to college. But now they say they don't know where they will get the money. What matters Kay says is the fact that their family never gave up on themselves. Stay together. Trying to keep your family together and I mean the farm is not everything. The thing is that you don't want your family.
According to the group early fire and I will be used to real advocacy group rural poverty in the 1980s rose for the first time ever in the 1900s to levels paralleling poverty in America's inner cities. Tonight and I will Chris will talk about the condition of rural Iowa with our guest Joanne Hester is an Iowa lawmaker from honey creek. She's involved in welfare reform and health care services to the elderly. Our second guest is the Reverend David Austin Dorf. He's from Des Moines. He's director of the organization prairie fire in December published their own report on the nature of rural poverty in Iowa and across the nation. Our guest of a question by David Epstein with the Des Moines Register. And by Eric Wilson of the Waterloo courier. First let's see if we can get some agreement between you two what is the scope of this problem and how many people are like the people we just saw. Well I think that the scope of the problem is is very widespread across the state and across the nation and it's a hidden problem obviously because in rural
areas we don't see the glaring inequities that we may see in the inner cities and so on and I think that it's even though we have seen some turn around in the last year or so in terms of the economic situation here and I will for example the problem of the rural poor is still out there and very widespread and prevalent particularly in rural counties. I would agree with David in the very rural counties. And I think you went to northeast. I would go to the southern counties a tier of counties. We have yes some very rural per poor people and some in our small cities in my own area where I live. Our farm economy has come back but the poor I am seeing are maybe I think a parent family coming out. Do you have some hard numbers some some statistics. Well still in 1906 we were looking at poverty rates here in the state that exceed about 18 percent in rural
areas and I think that we have as in 1995 about one third of all the counties in the state have poverty levels exceeding 20 percent of the population. Now these data obviously are several years old by now but there are some of the more recent we have and I would suspect that some of those data have changed in diminished somewhat as we've seen in the past week or two in fact. So Robin Austin if you would concede that things are better in Iowa I mean we look at 1995 data or compare where we were since 1979. I mean things are getting better and I would you would you both agree. Yes we have. I think the official figure we've got where we have fifty three hundred less welfare recipients than we did. Last year. I'm curious about another numbers thing that we see and that is you know you hear these statistics about rising food stamp rates in rural Iowa and people get alarmed about that but isn't that a good sign I mean isn't that a sign that we're finally getting this assistance to people who need it.
Representative Hester Isn't that a good isn't that really good news when we see the rates of food stamp usage in row I guess I would say it was very good. I do not believe anybody should be going without food. But I also think some of these statistics may be misleading. The fact that they haven't always been kept and if you go back far enough there is a difference in the some of these that this takes and what we're bringing out now. None of the recent data though shows that in 87 about one third of all the people who were eligible for food stamps for example in in rural counties especially applied for them received in other words two thirds of the people who are eligible and in need out there aren't really getting the kind of services and support that they need they need. As we've seen obviously it's very difficult oftentimes for people to acknowledge that they've got these problems and going to get the support that's available. Let's get at that for a minute. How do we address that problem that we saw in the introduction that you've talked about here two thirds of the people who are eligible don't get them. My God these are federal programs state
programs that are available to them we pay taxes form what do you do as a clergyman as a politician to break that prideful ethic that exists out there that people won't get the help that they're legally entitled to how do you correct that. We've tried a number of different things in the past three years we've done a major food stamp organizing drives with the communication agency here in a state dinner for peace and justice. And each time we've done those drives and make an intentional effort at outreach the food stamp sign ups and usage has increased. We haven't done it for the past year. We feel that there's a critical need for better outreach efforts more direct outreach efforts with the real poor in the state and I think it's going to take a joint effort between churches and service agencies as well as a government representative Hester's anything that the state can do to break down that. That was everything as Reverend Austin Dorgan I just pointed out of pride and I have a problem. The thing let's take could break down the pride of the people so they will accept the
things I would. I think our churches and many of our churches I think all of them are working towards this to be sure that these people have food and everything. But to break down a farmer's pride. However however you get them there with it takes breaking down pride if it takes overcoming the stigma of accepting assistance. You've got to do something different than what you've been doing and then my question is what is it. I don't know. To educate them. I think the education is the main thing too. I would I guess I can say more and that's it just a moment ago referring to Dave's question breakdown of Farmer's pride that caused me to want to ask you is it really all farmers What is the profile of the rural poor a typical rural poor person or family. It occurs to me that they may not they may be living in rural areas but they may not be
farmers. Most of what we class as farmers anymore are also I guess have outside jobs. I think that's it. Every month farmers were saying probably in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 percent that are still in a very severe economic condition. We should be getting I was state polls sometime this month but last year's poll indicates again that we're looking at roughly 20 percent who are in severe economic condition and thereby would likely be eligible for these kinds of support services that leads once you get the profile is why are they poor. What has happened to the economy in that area. Why do they not move elsewhere where there are jobs. Why is it that those people are poor and living in that area. Well I think that what we're seeing happen here overall put putting the numbers aside if you will for a moment is that our society I believe is moving toward basically two tier structure with the few who have much and the many who have little. And we're saying that in agriculture we're seeing that in rural areas we're seeing across the nation.
We're we're moving into a situational world much of the historic middle class is being moved one way or the other and we're seeing that among farmers I think in this state we're going to see the emergence of probably 30 to 40 percent of the farmers in existence at this point who will provide the the bulk of the agricultural economics to this date that is the production. And who are going to be the survivors in the long run. The Office of Technology Assessment said in 1986 that by the year 2000 there will be 50000 super farms in this nation producing 75 percent of our food. That's a kind of skewed agricultural system we're moving into that I think reflects the skewed economics of our society. So is this a federal problem. This sounds like a federally federally created problem and is there anything that the state is going to be able to do to help these people. While I think the state certainly can help. I think we're seeing a shift in terms of how economic development dollars lottery dollars are going to be utilized away from some of the bigger projects some of the polls this past week have indicated a continuing support for the lottery but a shift in
terms of its priority uses. If we can provide decent jobs out there for people farmers and non farmers with good wages good benefits to enable them to stay in the rural areas I think that's the one of the the most critical things we need to do. But we've often got locked into the old syndrome of economic development which is in the old days of smokestack chasing. Today it's variations we're seeing some of the poultry industry move into the state of Iowa from the south they're providing very low wage jobs with few benefits that's not the kind of economic development we need. We need solid jobs and we need good benefits for our people. I want. MR. I would like to pick up on this if I would for a minute. We are needing jobs in the rural area but I don't think that we can come out and said that they have to be all high paying jobs because we have people that are on trade for those high paying jobs. Also it sets a base for the wages of our other small employers and we do not want to lose our other small employers in these small towns. To what extent in talking about jobs in rural areas
to what extent is that trend or opportunity being blocked by the magnet cities. Des Moines Council Bluffs. Well the whole area of the Quad Cities Mason City on the North drawing off were siphoning off commerce dollars if you will shopping in those major cities that provides when that dollar leaves that home community and goes to the mega city it takes away a job because the dollars not turning over the home town to what extent. Does it affect you CAN I would like to use one of my home counties. It's a very poor county right. We had many businesses closed. We lost many farmers during the 80s. The town's lot had many empty buildings. We are not coming back with businesses. We had one of them come in with telemarketing. They're planning on. It's not a high paying job but they're coming back with they hope for 120 jobs in this one small area that will bring the people back in shopping. Well the the town that's sitting next to
it has a book Manufacturing place. And it is a major operation. We have other businesses coming and we need small jobs to help supplement some of these farm jobs. And I think we're going to get used to the fact though that that for decades now the rural population has been shrinking This is a natural evolution. What's wrong with that. Well it's it's not a natural evolution in the 70s we saw a massive turn around in terms of world population. There was extraordinary growth in rural areas in this country in the 1970s in the 80s that did turn around. But it's not inevitable just as policy decisions are not to have the inevitable they're made by people on the basis of economics in politics. Our position is that people need to continue to press for these kinds of changes in terms of public policy we need to. Continue for example Representative Hester and I would probably disagree but I think we need to increase the minimum wage. We haven't had an increase in the minimum wage since
1981 and 35 percent inflation on top of that if we had that kind of increase in rural areas we could see the kind of economic support that would in fact I think support our small businesses out there as well. We need comprehensive health care in this state and that's an agenda I think that the legislature needs to leave it in the presidential What about those questions I mean we talk about things that we can do for ourselves in Iowa a lot of these problems are created by the federal government. Right. We're all in agreement on that but now we get to some of the things that Reverend Austin Dorf suggested here is things that the state can do. Should the legislature raise the minimum wage. There Isabel it's come out of a subcommittee yesterday to raise it $5 and within three years it will be fought very hard. They got you. I will be one of the I have voted no yesterday have to be on the subcommittee why. Because of the effect on many of our small companies. Process I don't think our business climate can handle it. What about all the federal government tried this last year and they had many many reasons for not doing
it. We are only we will be the highest in the nation if we raise it to $5 an hour. What about complementary health care. Yes. What about Conference of health care requiring employers to provide health insurance for their workers. What about that idea. I think that is still open we're looking at this we're taking a very hard look at it. I will be I was in subcommittee also on that yesterday. We're working very hard to see where we can make some changes so everybody has health care. But you've got how we have arrived at it. I'm not going to say at this time that the business lobby is telling you we can't afford this and this will this will chase us away to do these employers have a responsibility to these people out in the rural areas. Or or is the state putting too much pressure on them pressure that it it shouldn't be putting on them. Well I think that would be a thought if the businesses they were talking or they imply it was talking to you that you'd be kind. It seems to me every time we talk about the possibilities of increased benefits for workers anytime we talk about regulations for example as we're talking about continuing efforts in defining family farm agriculture in the state and corporate agriculture we're
always told well you know we're going to drive all the business that we're putting up a wall around Iowa and what happens then is that a lot of the businesses play States in this region off against each other we've got to stop that we've got to really I think move together to increase the kinds of wages and benefits workers have in this state because if we don't. We're going to see continuing stagnation in the economy in the room areas in particular. But the fact is if you don't play their game they do go someplace else. The fact is we ought to be pulling industries into this state that have not only an economic commitment to this but a fundamental social commitment to the state as well. What kinds of industries. I think that that remains to be seen I think we can. We need to continue to advance in terms of agricultural processing for example. We've got the basic livestock opportunities here in the state still and in cattle and in hogs in the poultry industry is another possibility here but I certainly don't support the kind of move the poultry industry in the
state that we're seeing at this point represented Hester one of the things that your governor did not recommend be done is raising the basic FTC Grant. The Department of Human Services says it should be raised by three three and a half percent. Some of the Democrats who control the legislature want to try to do more. Are you upset with Terry Branstad for not recommending an increase in the basic welfare grant for children in Iowa. No I think probably I would be. More upset maybe at this time if he had it due to the fact that I would like to see more emphasis placed on programs to help these people get off welfare. Now I am not. I'm saying the people go back to specifics on this. Where I live we have people coming over from Nebraska because we pay more on our welfare. Our area people are complaining very much. Every time we turn around we have an empty farmhouse if there isn't we don't have it the farms was the problem in Iowa getting people off welfare or on welfare.
I mean do we look at it as a problem that we need to get people to not be in these programs. Or should we look at this is a problem of getting people that need these programs. When we see it in the introduction to this program families that can't feed their children now how can the Republicans in the legislature oppose programs to try to do something about this. I don't with the information that has come across my desk that I don't believe that any FTC person cannot feed their children. Well it does I've seen it anywhere from eight eleven thousand dollars and on up it depends on what program they are involved. You see one part of it you do not see the remote here. Well definitely I mean a welfare family for an estate at current rates can get $450 a month which is below to far below the poverty level set by the federal government. How can a family of four live on $450 a month I think it's unconscionable that the governor has not support even this minimum increase in welfare payments that the Department of Human Services has supported that human needs advocates have supported. Again we've seen a
massive increase percentage wise in cost of living sense welfare increases have been provided. We have I think made some success in the state with regard to pulling people off the welfare rolls we need to continue that move in Ostrava let's go it to the liberal view of this thing. I mean the Liberal Democrat solution to these problems is just hurtle money at them. I mean you you issued a report in profile recently you have to more federal programs and more more more. Well that has more teeth. What does your new idea what is the new idea of your organization to drive to do something to break this cycle. Here in rural while I think we've got to continue to provide financial support to families in need I think you know the measure of a just society is the degree to which it supports its poorest people and provides him an opportunity to experience a decent life. And if this country doesn't have that fundamental commitment and I sometimes question that then it's clear to me that we've got a long ways to go to the poor will always be with us right now by
that. The poor are in this society because of the economic and political structure set up to can what point I want to Dean's it. At what point do we say it's the individual's responsibility to do something. We see in this state spot labor shortages in certain areas of the state there are employers who cannot find enough people to work. Now at what point do we say to an individual sorry you're going to have to move you're going to have to go back to school you don't have to get some retraining. You're going to have to take care of yourself at what point do we say that you don't you give the individual the opportunity to do that. Are you going to tell people when they should move to a job. Well if they can't find work in their own hometown or their own home county It seems sound a lot easier than it really is the reality is that you know people's roots are deep sunk up particularly in rural areas. And instead of expecting everyone to move in in a sense vote with their feet economically it's the responsibility of of the state not through particularly through dollars but through programs and so on to provide them opportunities to make a decent living out there. What is Mr. Trump bigger than the state. I mean again we get back to this seems to be a federally
created problem here how do you expect the state to. We don't expect the state to provide all the solutions to this problem that's obvious because the federal government has played a major role in this. We're talking about federal foreign policy we're talking about a virtual lack of federal rule policy in this country for 20 to 30 years because of the history you have to get back to the thing that they say and the four hundred sixty five dollars for a family of four that is just the very basis you're not talking about energy assistance you're not talking about food stamps you're not talking about health care. There's educational programs and so on they have. Now we have childcare that we implemented last year and we will be putting more funding in for child care to help single parent families. And we also are helping with the health care but David's question on individual responsibility which comment which would be your answer on that which is the individual's responsibility to leave the area where there isn't employment and go where there is or get retraining. I think that is why we're trying to get for the people to get employment into many of these
areas. That's why we're working hard at getting these business in and I think many of us have done this. Many of my farmers and my poor people have found there are places to go to get education we've lost some are moving out of state we want to correct that what extent are these statistics skewed by the elderly who probably would not leave that area but may be part of the rural poor that we're defining here they're becoming more so all the time because we have less youth in our areas all the time. And the poor are many of my trying to live on their Social Security checks and they're very small particularly if you was a farmer a number of years ago. But I also know that there are many programs affect them and one instance is I had a very dear friend that received with a farm they moved off the farm and her husband died she was on a very small Social Security and after she received her benefits she looked at me and she says you know Joanne I'm living better now than I ever did on the farm. So I think we are doing a fair job. It's not perfect. I'd like to go back to the beginning of this program the whole question of getting the trying to get to the people
who can't help themselves or who are in the situations we saw at the beginning put your pastoral hat on for a minute for venison or what if someone watching this program knows a family that that they know needs help or if there is a family watching this program that needs help what do they do. Where do they go. Where can they go to reach out and get help work and work and I go if I know a family that ought to get some assistance. Well I think that people should be talking with their family first of all suggesting the opportunities they have out there through the churches through state agencies and federal programs as well. And I think to that. Some quiet discussion in the community among service providers about the needs of particular families ought to take place I know a number of clergy friends across the state who just quietly pass the word along to the appropriate people that families are needed and I think that through that many other ways we have numerous community programs out there any other way an individual could help out. Well I think obviously there's always the kind of individual family support that families
always do in fact provide to one another in the countryside as anywhere where his point I've got to interrupt because we're out of time. Thank you Joy and Hester. If you are reading Austin door for being our guest today and I will press until next week for a panelist today Dave IEPs and Rick Wilson I'm David Ward thanks for joining us tonight. INVITE YOU NOT TO STAY TUNED FOR MORGAN Helder and she'll have take one next. Good night.
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- Rural Poverty
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