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Study to explore rural communities and inequality in the US

A new research project aims to identify the rural “left-behind” – communities struggling to cope with policy dynamics initiated at higher levels of government. The study will provide the most comprehensive analysis of the role state and local government policies play on the economic growth and well-being of rural communities in the United States.

Mildred Warner, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’97, professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, received a $500,000 grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to evaluate how state policies and local governments affect inclusive development.

Rural communities face increasing challenges as economic, social and political pressures squeeze budgets and fray public services. Shifting state policies force rural communities to respond, as states transfer some responsibilities and costs to local governments. Until now, most research in this arena has focused on how urban municipalities respond to state government action. The new Cornell study will perform a statistical analysis of rural governments’ revenue and expenditures from 2007-2017 to explore the impact the Great Recession had on communities in the more than 3,100 counties in the U.S., with an emphasis on understanding inequalities by place, gender and race.

Warner, an international expert on restructuring local government services, will study the complex inequalities in the relationships between state policies, local government service delivery, and economic development.

“It is clear local governments provide the critical physical and social infrastructure for community well-being,” Warner said. “What can state and local dynamics after the Great Recession teach us about what to expect in the post-COVID-19 time period?”

As part of the study, the researchers will track changes in revenue from federal aid, state aid, local sources – such as property taxes, sales taxes and fees – and expenditures on education, infrastructure, health and social welfare, as well as local capital investment.

Project collaborators include Linda Lobao, professor at Ohio State University; Yuanshuo Xu, Ph.D. ’19, assistant professor at Zhejiang University; Xue Zhang, Ph.D ‘19, postdoctoral researcher in Cornell Global Development; and Paige Kelly, a postdoctoral researcher starting June 1 at Cornell.

Matt Hayes is director for communications for Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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