Rural Infrastructure, Here We Come

The long road to “Infrastructure Week” has finally met its public-private partnership match, Keep It Rural friends. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, “H.R.3684 - Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” Friday night. The bill was previously negotiated in the U.S. Senate, and sends $550 billion out the door over the next few years to pay for the crumbling infrastructure we all use.

Billions for roads. Billions for bridges. Billions for airports and shipping terminals. Billions for trains. Billions for internet access. Billions for water. And much more. Billions for rural America.

While this infrastructure spending all makes incredible sense and should have passed many moons ago, I didn’t see it coming, frankly. But then again, I’m about as politically astute as a reptile trying to stay warm in the Arctic.

It’s not clear that the politics of passing this infrastructure bill will matter all that much to voters (see: this week’s reading list, below). The mainstream media has their story, including their frame of a rural versus urban, red versus blue, coast versus interior narrative. Nor does the progress mean that the Democrats, who for the moment control the White House and both chambers of Congress, can actually pass their more ambitious spending plans in the proposed budget reconciliation package we’ve discussed in previous Keep It Rural newsletters.

But it is worth taking stock of why legislation like this matters. Here’s a synopsis from our friends at DTN-Progressive Farmer:

“The bill will increase infrastructure spending by a projected $550 billion over 10 years. That includes $110 billion for roads, including $40 billion for bridge projects. Another $55 billion will go toward various water projects. Another $66 billion will go toward rail. Importantly for rural America, the bill also includes $65 billion to build out broadband infrastructure nationally.”

So get ready, rural America. Get your infrastructural wishlists in order. Rank your projects. Prioritize them. Get your grantwriters ready to fill out the paperwork. Because the infrastructural floodgates are about to be open. Finally.

Even in the places where our elected officials were too stingy and cheap to vote for such imperatives as clean water, structurally-sound bridges and high-speed internet that works.

Rural Reading List

This week’s list is mostly about politics and the Democrats’ supposed “rural problem,” as evidenced by a Governor’s race in Virginia. While I find these stories equal parts maddening and anecdotal, I also think there’s some golden nuggets to be had. Hopefully, you will agree.

McAuliffe’s ‘Rural Problem’ in Virginia Was Actually an ‘Everywhere’ Problem

Charts and data, courtesy of the Yonder, documenting where last week’s Virginia gubernatorial race changed the most from the 2020 Presidential election. Hint: it wasn’t in rural places that votes shifted most towards the GOP.

Commentary: Wisconsin Democrats Seek to Strengthen Party in Rural Counties

Deesmealz commentary by Democratic political strategist Matt Barron, this time about the always-important toss-up state of Wisconsin and the rural voters who can swing an election.

Rural Democrats stare into the abyss after Virginia

This Politico article has a lot of good dirt on the Democrats big loss in the Virginia, including this one: “Wine moms won't save us. Need the beer moms...” I’m sure that some rural moms do drink wine (I know many who do), but it’s still a pretty great line when comparing the rural versus suburban target voters.

Democrats Thought They Bottomed Out in Rural, White America. It Wasn’t the Bottom

And of course, we need the New York Times to weigh in on the mood of rural voters in Virginia too. They describe it “as the latest sign that Democrats, as one lawmaker put it, ‘continue to tank in small-town America.'”

One More Thing: Rural Kids Leave College With More Debt


I’m not necessarily surprised by this Deesmealz article, “Rural College-Goers Have Higher Debt Compared to Non-Rural Students” but still thought it was worth sharing.

According to the academics who study such things (courtesy of Ohio State University), “College students who grew up in rural areas face about 60% more debt than those from urban or suburban areas.” That’s a lot. Plus, “within the rural population of college students, women tend to carry higher levels of student debt than their male counterparts.”

The study’s author added in an email that:

“The rural-nonrural student debt gap is larger than the gap between women and men and about 25 percent as large as the Black-white debt gap ... Rural college-goers’ higher debt can be partly explained by their parents tending to have lower incomes, lower wealth, and less education compared to their non-rural counterparts. Rural college-goers’ higher rates of migration during college also plays a significant role.”

That’s a lot of rural-urban disparity right there. Sorry, rural college-bound kids. This one hurts in the pocketbook for sure.

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