Regardless of where people in the United States live—rural, urban, or somewhere in between—the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives and livelihoods. Certain groups are suffering disproportionately, including people of color, workers with low incomes, front-line workers, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. Many rural, tribal, and parts of metropolitan areas fall into the “already struggling” category—places that were dealing with health, economic, and social inequities long before the coronavirus arrived.
Likewise, the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans, one of the flashpoints sparking the most recent calls for racial justice, has affected the entire country. And while the focus of the protests has been on major urban centers, the media began compiling cases where predominantly white, small-town America—in Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Maine, and beyond—marched in support of the movement for Black lives. In these moments, people tend to forget that rural America encompasses the lands and peoples of more than 560 sovereign Indigenous nations; Black and Latino hubs in the Deep South and Southwest; and refugee communities across the Midwest.
With the pandemic calling for racial justice, the challenges of rural communities may seem at first glance unrelated; looking just a bit closer, however, it becomes clear that this issue and these regions are intimately connected. Advancing health and racial equity in America requires a broad set of stakeholders, such as researchers, lawmakers, and on-the-ground advocates, to make significant investment in rural areas in order to move policy and build power. To that end, policymakers must build a more comprehensive equity analysis that accounts for economic, racial, health, as well as geographic inequities.
When considering the question of how to drive action on this new approach, policymakers at all levels must factor in the following key insights and understandings:
- When advocates and lawmakers prioritize policies that are good for rural communities and for people of color, the nation as a whole benefits. The pandemic has revealed glaring structural failures in U.S. public policies. Those who are hurting the most today have also suffered the most historically—from income inequality, discrimination, lack of health insurance, lack of access to paid leave and child care, significant job loss, and so much more. U.S. policymakers need to invest in health and social infrastructures, including safe housing, income support, food security, paid sick leave, Medicaid expansion, and comprehensive health insurance coverage, to name some of the most pressing concerns. Equity-driven principles and policies will benefit not only rural, tribal, and other places in were already struggling, but communities across the board.
- When breaking down the data, it is possible to…
Read More: With a Focus on Equity, Geography No Longer Has To Be Destiny