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Rural Matters

Oct 4, 2019

In this kickoff to Rural Matters’ first in-depth, four-part series, Rural Communities: Conquering Challenges, Optimizing Opportunities, Michelle and three guests take a deep dive on what it’s like — and what it could be like in the future — to live in Rural America, exploring the recent findings of a survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health. The three guests are Dr. Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Policy Translation and Leadership Development at the Harvard School of Public Health who serves as co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health project on understanding Americans' Health Agenda; Ed Sivak, Chief Policy and Communications Officer for Hope Enterprise Corporation/ Hope Credit Union (HOPE); and Luke Shaefer, University of Michigan Professor of Social Work in the School of Social Work and Professor of Public Policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; and Director of Poverty Solutions. The majority of those living in rural America are optimistic about the future, but many others are concerned about their economic future and, in particular, the opioid crisis, according to Blendon. The survey results show that about half in rural America say they could not pay a “surprise” bill of $1,000. In addition, Blendon notes, rural residents say they need outside help to deal with many of their problems, including that their health insurance coverage doesn’t enable them to seek certain local providers. In addition, he notes, one in five rural residents has difficulty getting Internet coverage, which creates all sorts of barriers, including in terms of health care. Sivak notes that in 9 out of 10 persistent poverty countries, many of them in the rural areas, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average. Access to a financial institution, such as Hope, really matters, he concludes. Shaefer points out that rural communities are disproportionately represented among the 100 most vulnerable communities in the United States. The bottom line, according to the guests, is that life in rural America today is indeed challenging for many residents and that outside help is needed, but because of volunteer efforts, local “superheroes,” and innovative solutions that hopefully can be sustaining, there are realistic opportunities to address the problems. This episode — and the entire four-part series — is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,, @rwjf. This episode also was sponsored by Thomas USAF, who is sponsoring the 20th Annual National Rural Lenders Roundtable in Washington, DC on December 4,