Rural Poverty Research Symposium - December 2-3, 2013

Community and Economic Development Group, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service

There's a clear link between poverty reduction and the work of the central bank. The Federal Reserve's mission of encouraging macroeconomic stability is the key to continuous economic growth and full employment, Atlanta Fed Research Director Dave Altig pointed out during welcoming remarks at the Rural Poverty Research Symposium. And economic growth and employment are essential in reducing poverty, Altig added.

It works both ways. As a stronger economy helps reduce poverty, so too does reducing poverty help the larger economy, said conference keynote speaker Mark Partridge of Ohio State University. Rural poverty is too often ignored, Partridge said. That is shortsighted, he argued, because poverty is associated with worse inequality, which in turn is linked to lower economic growth. In the global economy, the United States cannot compete if a large share of the population is not fully contributing, Partridge said.

Papers cover education, demographics among other topics

Economists, sociologists, and other researchers discussed more than a dozen papers and presentations at the symposium. Subject matter included human capital and education, racial and demographic aspects of rural poverty, where food stamp issuance increased most during the Great Recession, and the shortcomings of current poverty measurements.

The symposium's second keynote speaker, Cynthia “Mil” Duncan of the University of New Hampshire, emphasized the importance of education in alleviating rural poverty. She noted that rural poverty still goes hand in hand with low educational attainment.

Indeed, a history of poor education and low work skills maintains a grip on poor rural areas, according to James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky. Ziliak presented a paper showing that the effects of historical and contemporary human capital explain almost 60 percent of the income gap between persistently poor and nonpoor places. In other words, persistently poor counties are different (and poorer) mainly because they have long had lower levels of human capital—less educated and trained people—and because they still lag more prosperous places in those areas.

You can review Ziliak's work and other conference presentations. The Atlanta Fed's Community and Economic Development Group and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service sponsored the event.