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Op-Ed: Rural America Is Back In Business

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2016 — By: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

We know when rural communities do well, America does well. Rural America provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink and the energy we use, not to mention a disproportionate percentage of the Nation's military that keeps us safe from threat. That's why it's good news that in all corners of rural America, we're seeing real, positive change take hold for the first time in the years since the Great Recession.

Today, rural populations have stabilized, meaning more and more people—especially young families—are electing to stay in rural America rather than leave for the city. Better job prospects are helping that trend. Rural counties added over 125,000 jobs in both 2014 and 2015, after job losses averaging 200,000 per year during 2008-2013. As a result, the rural unemployment rate has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2007, which is impacting falling poverty rates. From 2012-2014, we saw rural child poverty fall by 3 percentage points. And new data indicates that 7.9 million fewer people are struggling to provide adequate food for themselves or household members than when President Obama took office. In fact, food insecurity for children is at the lowest level on record—meaning our children are able to access nutritious food in higher numbers than in the past.

Taken together, these benchmarks of progress should give us great hope for the future.

Over the past eight years, the Obama Administration, led by USDA, has vigorously invested in the rural way of life, strengthening the small towns and rural communities that so many call home.

We've supported the heart of the American dream, helping more than 1.2 million families buy, repair or refinance a home in rural America, creating more homeownership opportunities than any other previous seven-year period in USDA's single-family housing program's history.

We've invested in 8,350 critical community facilities like schools, libraries, hospitals and public spaces that improve the rural quality of life.

We've facilitated the 21st century basic infrastructure of broadband in areas that desperately needed it, enabling access to new or improved high-speed internet service for six million Americans who live and work in rural areas.

We've also set up the next generation of rural Americans by investing in a new economy focused on biobased products and manufacturing; lifting the potential of conservation and natural resources to expand recreation and business opportunities; building a local and regional food system that supports millions of new jobs; and supporting the world's greatest production agriculture system which has produced record exports and record profits for our nation's farming families.

We've proven time and time again that an investment in rural America is a good bet. And to that point, we've helped unlock billions of dollars in private capital that is now flowing into rural businesses across the country.

I've always believed that the potential of rural America is limitless, but in these eight years, I've seen the proof. With the steadfast support of our partners across the nation, and historic investments from President Obama and his entire Administration, I'm proud to say that change has come to our rural communities.

-Thomas J. Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture