Examining the urban-rural divide. And a look at two efforts to bridge it.

As we’ve written, rural communities across the nation and our state continue to experience sluggish growth – even population and job loss – while urban communities prosper. We’ve also written of initiatives to address the divide being undertaken here, like the Rural Jobs Summit sponsored by the Association of Washington Business.

One challenge faced by analysts and policymakers is getting a good grasp on the dimensions of the problem. The Wall Street Journal recently published a story that meets that challenge well: “The Divide Between America’s Prosperous Cities and Struggling Small Towns – In 20 Charts.” We encourage you to click through to the charts, which graphically show the divergence in population, employment, education, income, poverty, labor force participation and other key indicators of economic and civic health between urban and rural communities.

The lead is stark: 

About 1 in 7 Americans lives in rural parts of the country—1,800 counties that sit outside any metropolitan area. A generation ago, most of these places had working economies, a strong social fabric and a way of life that drew a steady stream of urban migrants. Today, many are in crisis. Populations are aging, more working-age adults collect disability, and trends in teen pregnancy and divorce are diverging for the worse from metro areas. Deaths by suicide and in maternity are on the rise. Bank lending and business startups are falling behind. Here is the data that tells the story.

Georgia is among the states facing a particularly difficult urban-rural split

Only 11 rural counties in Georgia have a larger population now than in 1860, when cotton and slavery dominated the economy. Thirty-six Georgia counties now have death rates higher than their birth rates. All are in rural Georgia, according to statistics compiled by the rural development council.

While Georgia’s population has doubled over two generations, two-thirds of the growth has been concentrated in seven counties that make up metro Atlanta or Savannah.

The AP reports Georgia lawmakers are looking at using tax policy to spur rural development.

A group of state lawmakers is exploring the idea of using income tax breaks to help repopulate rural Georgia and the ghost towns that now dot the landscape after years of population decline.

The “Rural Relocate and Reside” program would offer one-time, 10-year state income tax deductions of up to $50,000 to new residents of certain counties, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

While the plan has a long way to go, the use of incentives to spark investment in rural communities has plenty of precedent, including in our state

Rural communities also often suffer from a lack of the technology necessary for business and individual development today. We wrote about it here:

Rural economies also depend on technology. And Microsoft has recently unveiled a strategy for expanding broadband to underserved rural communities. Earlier this month, Microsoft president Brad Smith presented the company’s thoughts on the broadband gap

…As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors. To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation.

GeekWire today reports on the company’s progress toward realization of that vision.

Microsoft is partnering with organizations across the country to form Connect Americans Now (CAN), a coalition that will pressure policymaker to help bring broadband internet access to rural America.

…Microsoft’s plan to solve this opportunity gap involves broadcasting broadband internet to rural regions over unoccupied TV channels, or white spaces. In July, Microsoft launched its “Rural Airband Initiative,” a plan that aims to help bring broadband connectivity to two million people living in rural communities within the next five years. To do that, the Federal Communications Commission must ensure that there is enough unoccupied white space in every market.

…Microsoft has spent years developing technology that makes it possible to utilize TV white spaces spectrum. The company will help staff CAN and provide small investments to develop the broadband networks, according to Axios.

As the WSJ charts demonstrate, the divide is real; the need to bridge it is urgent.