I grew up in a Midwestern community that was left behind as the world and economy changed around us. As factories closed and stores were shuttered, as young people moved away and job losses ran high, corporate America and Washington did little to help. We were written off.
That same community is the one I call home today, and now we are growing, against the odds. South Bend is a lot different now than during its decades of economic decline, but our sense of pride and possibility kept us going throughout good and hard times.
I see that same sense of pride and possibility in rural communities around my hometown and around the country. But it is being tested by a sense of decline that must be reversed before we run out of time.
Rural Americans today die younger than urban Americans. Farm income has plummeted, more workers are sinking into poverty, and job growth is lagging compared to urban areas. Opioids are ravaging a generation. Access to affordable, quality health care, including mental health care, is often literally out of reach.
Today’s policies are making this worse. Under the current administration, we’ve engaged in an unnecessary trade war that treats farmers like pawns and thinks they’ll be satisfied with a subsidy rather than their life’s work. Parents are wondering if their kids will have the opportunity to thrive where they grew up. For many young people the answer is “no,” and they are fleeing to cities to find jobs.
It shouldn’t be this way. Despite policy failures that have made communities feel forgotten, rural America is brimming with possibility — and we can create opportunities with a new approach and bold solutions.
As I’ve traveled around, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with Americans in small towns about their concerns and hopes. It was the same sense of determination and resilience that I heard from my neighbors in South Bend as we worked to turn our hometown around. I also heard their good ideas to meet the challenges their communities are facing.
Together, with a new way of thinking, we can get this right. We can do it by actually investing in rural Americans and enabling them to build new businesses and seize new economic opportunities. That includes leading the way on climate change with billions of dollars in R&D, and enabling rural communities to compete globally with an Internet for All initiative. We’ll also reduce teacher shortages and double down on protections for workers and family farmers.
Rural America is vital to our country’s past, present, and future. But to truly meet the challenges of the future, our plan takes a new approach that doesn’t just offer a checklist of ideas based on advancing an ideology, but solutions based on an understanding of everyday life. Read what we’re proposing here.