|In areas where there aren't much in the way of jobs, people who want to stay in their homes will try to make a living farming. Not so easy.
Take chicken farming as an example. Grist's Suzi Parker explains how the highly consolidated, monopolistic chicken industry works*:
... "These companies seek rural areas where unemployment, or underemployment, is high and people are desperate for ways to stay on the farm," says Aloma Dew, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky. "They assume that poor, country people will not organize or speak up, and that they will be ignorant of the impacts on their health and quality of life."
The companies provide local growers, who work under contract, with chicks, feed, medicine, and transportation. Growers take care of the rest, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction, maintenance, and labor costs. When the company requires upgrades, the costs fall to the growers. The massive amounts of manure, too, are their responsibility. (In Arkansas alone, chicken farms produce an amount of waste each day equal to that produced by 8 million people.)
Payment is results-oriented, based on measures like total weight gain of the flock. It's a system, says the United Food and Commercial Workers, that leaves 71 percent of growers earning below poverty-level wages. ...
If you want to switch professions at that point, you can't. You owe too much on the loans for the single-purpose chicken houses that you had to put your own house up as collateral for. And the chicken companies only enter into one year contracts, even if you had to get a 10, 20 or 30 year loan to pay for the facilities.
Want to sell your chickens to someone else? Too bad. The companies have effective geographic monopolies, no employer-employee responsibilities towards you, and if they terminate your contract, you're done.
Similar stories abound throughout the agricultural sector. Yet, like everywhere else, the large corporations who profit the most off of rural poverty and scarce opportunity spend a lot of money to convince people of things that go against their own interests. Eschemeyer continues:
"Another point is that we have trouble reaching farmers with our message...why?...the fact that American Farm Bureau really is an insurance company that made its way into the minds and pockets of farmers through health insurance.
"Yet they have a stock portfolio that reads like a who's who of agribusiness giants: Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Monsanto, Phillip-Morris, Dupont, Novartis and Dow AND they lobby for every anti-family farmer legislation possible."
If you either can't or don't want to farm, well, hope and pray that a prison opens up nearby, that you live near a university or state capital, or a WalMart didn't eat all the local small businesses. And good luck finding a job with health coverage.
Adding insult to economic injury, rural areas tend to have even fewer health coverage options than those in more densely populated regions, making rural health insurance options almost as exploitive as the chicken industry.
Steph Larsen, a healthcare organizer at the Center for Rural Affairs puts the problem in perspective:
... Small businesses, entrepreneurs and self-employed workers are the lifeblood of rural communities. Without health reform that works for them, the economies of our rural communities will continue to suffer. Yet our rural states are some of the most consolidated in the country.
In Vermont (pdf) for example, where 62% of the population lives in rural communities, two companies control 90% of the market share of health insurance. Montana's (pdf) rural population is 46% of its total population, and one insurance company has 75% of the market. Iowa (pdf) has 1.1 million people in rural areas, and 80% of the insurance market is controlled by the top 2 insurers.
Of the list of top 10 most consolidated health insurance states, only two - Hawaii and Rhode Island - have a rural population of less than 30% of their total population. ...
Can you say monopoly? I knew you could. Not that anyone gives a damn about enforcing the law anymore.
The short of it is that rural economies are getting an even nastier end of the stick to hold. The farming community, which needs to start attracting young entrepreneurs again and whose help we'll need in order to put the brakes on climate change, is simply being crushed.
So it's no wonder that Karl Rove is writing that opposing a public option needs to be the main priority of the Republican party. He probably knows what a pain point this is for his party's last reliable voting bloc outside the South. If Democrats succeed in lightening these burdens, they may also find that voters they'd previously written off will take another look at them.
A Democratic Party that's serious about ending the Republican lock on rural votes will get serious about the healthcare crisis and they will pass reform that includes, at the least, a public plan with proper cost controls and low-income premium supports.
Of course, they could also do it because it's the right thing and the country needs it badly. Which is crazy talk, I'm sure.
* As referenced in Jill Richardson's excellent upcoming book, whose galley I'm enjoying, Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.