Localize national stories with information maps

December 11, 2013

By Al Cross
Into the Issues

We’ve had a wealth of information on The Rural Blog recently: a look at new education standards, health-care issues, and several good sources for localizing stories about national issues and trends, including how your local hospitals are doing. Here’s a rundown, with shortened links to our blog items:

The Common Core State Standards for elementary and secondary education, which have been adopted by 45 states and will take effect next year, are getting some blowback from critics on the right and left. We reported on it at http://bit.ly/1dOmBFi, a blog item that includes a link to our own detailed story.

Also on the school front, we carried a report that 72 percent of U.S. schools lack broadband speeds to take full advantage of the Internet, and that’s more likely to be a problem in rural areas. See bit.ly/1a8YMYT.

Local school districts are having to keep closer track of employee hours and make some tough staffing decisions because of the federal health reform law’s requirement to cover full-time employees, defined as those working 30 or more hours a week. We reported on it at bit.ly/1b92iEN.


Health care and jobs

Another part of Obamacare penalizes and rewards hospitals for the quality of care they give, judged in part by readmissions. You can look up any hospital in the country, via our blog item at bit.ly/1bNAT9T.

One of the problems with the new health-insurance system is that many rural areas don’t have much of a choice when it comes to coverage plans, and that leads to higher premiums. We noted that at bit.ly/19As2qo. Here’s a link to an item with maps showing the number of choices in each county: bit.ly/1cr6Kve.

One fear about Obamacare is that the health-care system won’t have enough doctors and other providers to handle the people newly eligible for insurance, and that fear is acute in rural areas, where doctors are older. We wrote about it at bit.ly/I5IaHJ.

The 45 House Republicans who helped force a government shutdown over Obamacare have districts that are more rural and worse off economically than average, The Washington Post reported. We picked it up at bit.ly/1cpAHfz.

Rural areas generally are recovering more slowly from the recession, according to an excellent source of local, rural data, the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We took note at bit.ly/1cr6JHB.

The Washington Post reported that about 10 percent of recent veterans are unemployed. Veterans are a larger share of the rural population than the urban and suburban population, so we picked up the story at bit.ly/1aSyQwy.

Meatpacking has been moving to rural areas, providing jobs, often to immigrants, but poverty remains high in many areas with such plants. Harvest Public Media did the story and we picked it up at bit.ly/1dm1jzj. Meanwhile, USDA wants to speed up processing lines; see bit.ly/I4eYR2

Counties that are persistently poverty-stricken are more likely to be rural, ERS reported, and we noted it at bit.ly/1cTh4wQ.

As the recession fades, credit is becoming more available, but rural borrowers are still more likely to be rejected or pay higher interest rates, Keith Wiley of the Housing Assistance Council wrote for the Daily Yonder, and we picked it up at bit.ly/18pfT8E.


Local data in national maps

Rural employment increasingly means commuting, and commuting times are growing longer. Your community’s average commuting time is in census data, and New York Public Radio compiled the data into an interactive map for almost every ZIP code. We showed it at bit.ly/1cs3JL4.

Several other good sources of local data cropped up recently. A new University of Wisconsin website lets you track county migration statistics by decade since 1950, and we wrote about it at bit.ly/1cuXua7.

A software company in North Carolina has developed “Mapping the Nation,” a site that shows every county’s global connections, such as percentage of foreign-born population, employment by foreign-owned companies, and languages and the study of them. See it at bit.ly/1dTZitJ.

Another county map, produced by researchers at Duke University, shows the level of training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a key to survival in emergencies. It’s lower in rural areas. See yours at bit.ly/1b94yvB.

Data on child obesity are available by county in some states. New state maps from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show the percentage of obesity among 2-to-4-year-olds in low-income families, percentage of obese children aged 10 to 17, and the percentage of obese high-school students. See the maps at bit.ly/1f7ZM3h.


Oil, gas and other topics

The U.S. oil and gas boom, driven by horizontal hydraulic fracturing of deep shales, means that wells are being drilled near many Americans who never had them as neighbors before. The Wall Street Journal wrote about it, and so did we, at bit.ly/1cHbm0e. And some buyers of subdivision lots don’t realize they don’t come with mineral rights. Reuters reported and we noted at bit.ly/181k75p

The regulation of oil and gas drilling is almost entirely done at the state level, and state regulators tend to come from the industry and be friendly toward it. So are many state legislatures. The latest example is New Mexico, as Energy Wire reported, and we noted at bit.ly/1d2I9lf.

Rural recycling is relatively rare, the Asbury Park (NJ) Press reported, and we noted at bit.ly/1bTSb3u.

Because the Boy Scouts decided to allow gay scouts, some troops have lost their church sponsors or converted to a Christian-based group called Trail Life. We rounded up coverage from Florida and Kentucky at bit.ly/1bE3x9R.

The Pulitzer Prize board, which hasn’t given a prize for editorial writing in some recent years, issued a call for smaller newspapers to enter the competition. We reported it, and noted some Pulitzer-winning editorialists at small papers, at http://bit.ly/18Mns4s.

You’re welcome to reprint our Rural Blog items as news; they always contain credit for the original source, and if you use one, we’d appreciate a credit line and a notification. If you do or see good rural journalism, tell us about it so we can put it on The Rural Blog at irjci.blogspot.com.


Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

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