The truth about rural America

I’ve long been an admirer of Eduardo Porter, who takes a subtle and unusual angle in writing about economics for the New York Times.

In case the phrase “writing about economics” causes you to shrink away from the page, as I used to do, don’t shrink. Be like me: read him, because his writing is engaging and humanistic as well as quite profound.

I’m not sure when I first became a Porter fan, but I certainly was by the time he wrote about undocumented immigrants and how they contribute to our economy. The most powerful information I learned from him was how much money such immigrants pay into our Social Security system every year. (It’s a blow-you-away number, a real number, a factual number.)

While generally I don’t like using the word “truth” to describe good journalism, good reporting, accurate news — I much prefer “fact” — Eduardo Porter’s reports radiate truth. Something larger than just fact; a sort of halo around a fact.

Anyway, here’s his eloquent, radiantly truthful article about the gnarly problem of rural Americans, a problem everyone’s been debating and arguing and politicking about at least since the 2016 election.

Do not be afraid to read “The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy.” It’s full of people’s lives, and Porter’s deeply intelligent thinking about these lives. And it’s illustrated with some charts even I can read, and beautiful, gently moving photographs.

Here’s one paragraph:

I’ve lived most of my life in big cities. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live in a small town or on a family farm, or how it feels when all the jobs in a community seem to be fading away. I do spend a lot of time thinking about how the economic changes of the last several decades have undercut many American workers. One thing seems clear to me: nobody — not experts or policymakers or people in these communities — seems to know quite how to pick rural America up.

If nothing else, this article will free you from being yanked into pointless arguments about how to solve the problem, because none of the arguments roiling our air comes close to the truth. And the thoughtful people who have developed solutions all admit they can’t guarantee they’ll work.


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