Urban, rural…the two Americas!

Growing up many of us dream of traveling the world and perhaps living in places far away from where we are born and raised yet the reality is once we hit adulthood most of us tend not to stray far from where are born and raised. Sure there is the occasional vacation, business trip or maybe even a stint someplace else for college but generally speaking visiting a place can be vastly different than living in a place. Oh how I learned this lesson nine years ago when I packed up my life and left the third largest city in the US to settle in one of the whitest states in the nation which also happened to be pretty damn rural.

In my nine years in Maine though I have learned many things, yes I often lament the lack of racial and ethnic diversity…hell one might say my work at the Portland Phoenix is all about pointing that out.

Moving and living here has been an experience not because it took me out of my comfort zone but because it has allowed me to see a very different world than I was accustomed to. It turns out rural America is very different than urban America. On the surface it was initially the utter whiteness that stood out to me yet over time I realized that in many ways rural America is a very different place than urban America, I think this is quite evident in the political red-blue scenario we see played out at election time.

In urban America, access to services is far greater. Back home in Chicago not having health insurance wouldn’t kill me because there is a public health system that includes multiple sliding scale clinics as well as a free hospital. Sure you may have to wait a while but the treatment is available. Here in rural America, generally speaking there is no county hospital, clinics that treat the uninsured or underinsured are far and few between and dental care without the cash to pay or insurance in rural America? Forget about it!

In urban America you often have choices when it comes to where your kid goes to school, back in my hometown we had magnet schools often with areas of interest. Public schools shitty? In urban America, there are often a plethora of private school choices, in rural America if you are lucky you get 1-2 parochial schools (the Catholic school in my town just closed its doors). Needless to say that lack of choices in schools is not always a good thing for variety of reasons.

In many urban areas the economy may not be great considering the overall economic climate but for most of rural America, it’s a damn depression! Nine years ago my town had a vibrant downtown, now it’s getting depressing and we aren’t even as bad off as the town I work in. Speaking of work, drugs are everywhere…this is a fact but rural America is being killed by drugs! Kids are bored; hell lack of opportunities in general in my two cent opinion is contributing to the rise in drug use in rural America. Just the other week, I left my office and damn near stepped on a used hypodermic needle…in a town of 20, 000 in Maine! Sadly addicts in rural states have less help available to them, in Chicago there were free options for getting clean; in rural America there are not enough beds for addicts and depending on where you are very little in terms of free help.

In my line of work, unfair funding formulas and expectations from grant makers make social services in rural areas a very Hodge podgy thing. In a state like Maine the numbers are not there at least on paper when compared even to mid-size large cities like Boston or San Jose. Practically speaking that means social services are often provided by career volunteers and often are insufficient to meet the need of the those in need. Last year the agency I oversee provided services to 301 kids on an operating budget of $60,000 and that includes my salary, the salary of the 3 staff members we had over the course of the year and all the expenses of running our agency including rent. Yeah, you can see why monetizing this blog was a goal of mine…I am not exactly raking in the big bucks!

Lately social media has allowed me to see that many living in urban America have no idea that the life they lead is not the norm for those in rural America…hell the infrastructures themselves are vastly different in these two places. Yet the lack of knowledge between those in rural and urban America about the other is threatening this nation. There is a reason people like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin get the interest of those in rural America…they speak the language, no matter how silly it may sound.

This post was prompted by the fact; many especially in urban America see the possible demise of the US Postal Service as no big deal. Failing to realize there are still large parts of this country where paying bills on line is not an option, where one can’t run down to the UPS store to mail a package because there ain’t no UPS store. The fact that there are so many including a well-known online personality who railed on about how the US Postal Service has outlived its usefulness really hit home to me that maybe there are two Americas!

3 thoughts on “Urban, rural…the two Americas!

  1. I am a lurker, but I had to come out of the woodwork to say that this is a very eye-opening piece! I always knew that there is a difference between urban and rural Americas, but to be honest, I’ve never really sat down and thought too hard about it.

    I would also say, too, that there is a third America: the suburban America, which pays a lot of taxes (e.g. property tax, gas tax, etc) like urbanites, but are inconveniently far from the social services. But perhaps it is just more of a hybrid.

  2. Good points and I did think of the suburban factor when writing this but felt it was a tad more than I wanted to get into.

  3. Dear BGIM:

    Agree whole-heatedly. Of course, any comment on such a huge social issue with feel trite… It’s stunning to me that people still don’t understand that generational poverty is everywhere (the historical reasons of why some communities are disproportionately poor is another topic). Anyone who has driven in Appalachia, or visited the long-predominantly Irish housing projects in Southie in Boston will see that the pathology of generational poverty – gangs, drugs, hopelessness, dropping out of school, kids having babies, etc. – is the same whether in a “white” or “black” or neighborhood of any color or ethnicity. Read “All Souls: A Family Story of Southie” for a harrowing picture of the loss of so many of that community’s children to suicide and drugs.

    Yet, despite the odds, there are wonderful, functioning and hopeful families in all these neighborhoods, too. (I can’t help it; I am a Pollyanna at heart; I am a new subscriber and seem to feel compelled to respond to a lot of old posts today, sorry.).

    Cheers, Carolyn

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