WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ranking Member of the Joint Economic Committee, held a teleconference to discuss the challenges facing rural America and what policies can help promote economic growth and new opportunities in these communities.
Senator Heinrich highlighted specific examples of challenges faced across rural New Mexico, and provided a framework on how Congress can address these challenges including improving access to broadband, diversifying the economy, and investing in infrastructure, workforce development and community colleges.
“In New Mexico and across the nation, working to address these challenges is not only vital to the success of our future economy, but to the livelihoods of millions of Americans who deserve a fair shot at getting ahead,” stated Heinrich on the call.
Joint Economic Committee Democrats released a new report today, “Understanding the Economic Challenges in Rural America,” that found that declining population, limited employment opportunities, an education gap, and lack of public investment pose serious challenges to the economic vitality of rural communities.
The report is the first in a series designed to give Congress a sense of the economic pressures bearing down on rural communities.
Senator Heinrich’s remarks during the teleconference as prepared for delivery are below.
As many of you know, rural communities across the nation and in my home state of New Mexico have been hurting economically for quite some time.
As the Ranking Member of the Joint Economic Committee, I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the unique challenges that affect rural America, and what policies can help promote economic growth and generate new job-creating opportunities in these communities.
Today we released a report called: “Understanding Economic Challenges in Rural America.”
We describe in this report what many in rural America already know: rural communities haven’t shared in the economic recovery from the Great Recession.
We have data that shows the population in rural America is sliding, that overall employment in rural communities is still behind urbanized areas, and that even when you have a job in rural America, your wages aren’t growing as fast as those in other places.
On top of that, we have a persistent education gap in rural America that shows no sign of recovery without intervention.
The overall economic picture for rural communities is very challenging.
Which is why we need to take bold action that invests in our people and in our communities.
And quite frankly, that is not happening in rural America like it needs to be. Part of the problem is that Wall Street investors and private equity firms are going to put money, time and resources where they can make a big profit – in urban areas.
They are not going into Lordsburg or Anthony, New Mexico. But you know who is? Federal investments from USDA, PILT funding, the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, and other public resources that the market for decades has simply not delivered on.
This matters because when President Trump talks about an infrastructure plan that doesn’t cost any money, it’s because he thinks tax credits for investors are the answer and pay for themselves. But those of us who care about rural America already know that toll roads don’t fly and there is no Wall Street return on investment for a new water treatment facility in a rural community.
And when rural New Mexicans hear about tens of billions of dollars being spent on a border wall in their community that they do not support, it is especially hard to see the President’s budget cut investments in their home town. For example, his budget gutted water infrastructure projects for communities of 10,000 or less, USDA programs supporting small businesses in rural America, Community Development Block Grants and even PILT funding.
I honestly sense that rural America is an afterthought or something that those in Washington see as a group of people you talk ‘to,’ rather than with.
That is why not long ago I held a multi-day rural health care listening tour in New Mexico to meet with medical professionals and discuss tele-health for veterans, recruiting and retaining staff, and other issues facing New Mexico's growing health care industry. I was in Santa Rosa, Mosquero, Clayton, and Raton.
Separately, I traveled to Moriarty to celebrate the construction of the new El Cabo Wind Farm, a 298-megawatt project anticipated to be one of the largest wind projects in New Mexico. This is an industry that is starting to reverse these trends and deliver jobs, tax receipts, and investments to rural America.
And most recently, I was in the border region at the port of entries in southern New Mexico in Santa Teresa and Columbus, and in Hatch to talk with Medicaid recipients.
While each of these rural communities I mention in New Mexico is unique, I am always taken by the common thread of hard work and the unwavering commitment to community that is so prevalent. It reminds me a lot of how I grew up -- in a small town of 1,000 people. Bagging groceries, washing dishes, and working on my parents farm to get ahead.
Both of my parents worked long hours to make ends meet. My mom worked in a factory and my dad was a utility lineman. They both worked hard to provide a better future for my sisters and me. Education was paramount.
Addressing the challenges facing rural communities requires a comprehensive strategy that takes stock of the existing assets and needs in rural America.
This report is the first in a series designed to highlight the economic pressures bearing down on rural communities.
Some of the key findings include:
Rural America’s population has been declining.
The recession hit rural workers particularly hard.
Wage growth in rural communities has been sluggish.
And perhaps most importantly, an educational gap is putting a generational hold on economic opportunity.
In the 21st Century economy, a college education is increasingly necessary for achieving economic prosperity. Yet rural America consistently lags behind urban communities in educational attainment, and the gap between the two has increased by 25 percent from 2000 to 2016.
In order for Congress to adequately address the issues that rural America faces, it must understand how many of rural America’s problems differ from those of urban America.
Whether it’s improving access to broadband, diversifying the economy, or investing in infrastructure, workforce development and our community colleges, Congress has the opportunity to play the defining role in how rural communities develop and thrive.
But we have to first acknowledge when we see drastic funding cuts for critical rural programs in the President’s budget, those are the primary investments going into our rural areas that investors are simply not able or willing to deliver on.
So in some ways rural America has to play defense against those – like President Trump – who don’t understand their needs and want to send Wall Street investors to the rescue.
I can promise you that I am working to develop real solutions that will actually work to make life better in rural America.
Because in New Mexico and across the nation, working to address these challenges is not only vital to the success of our future economy, but to the livelihoods of millions of Americans who deserve a fair shot at getting ahead.
That’s what this is about. America will never reach our full potential if rural Americans aren’t able to reach their full potential.