From staff reports
---- — WEST LAFAYETTE — Researchers at Purdue University are rolling out a series of publications to help state and local leaders better tackle quality-of-life issues facing people in the most rural counties in Indiana.
The “Rural Indiana” series through Purdue Extension explores how changes in population and other demographics are creating both barriers to progress and opportunities for the future in rural areas. Local leaders in rural counties have long been searching for solutions to problems stemming from poverty, an aging population, “brain drain” of young people leaving for opportunities elsewhere, and other conditions inherent with daily living there.
Fourteen percent of Indiana’s 6.48 million people live in counties that researchers considered the most rural. That list, which includes Carroll, White, Pulaski and Fulton counties, comprised 42 of the state’s 92 counties, according to a release from Purdue University.
The purpose of the research was to identify important concerns, such as those involving business development, education, availability of health care and healthy food — even limited access to broadband Internet services — to help policymakers in state government recognize the needs of people in rural areas.
“Hopefully, this will help provide new insights on specific issues,” said Janet Ayres, a Purdue Extension agricultural economics specialist whose work focuses on leadership and economic development in rural Indiana.
Ayres said local leaders might benefit the most from the research, spurring communitywide discussion of issues and helping to determine solutions.
“Local leaders need to delve more deeply into the trends in the community and what it means for their future so that the community can be better prepared,” said Ayres, who is overseeing the project that involves researchers throughout Purdue’s campus.
Seven publications so far have been published and made available for free at Purdue Extension’s The Education Store at https://mdc.itap.purdue.edu. Among them:
• “Defining Rural Indiana – The First Step” explains that researchers used statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census to analyze trends at the county level over the past 20 years.
• “The Aging of Rural Indiana’s Population” concludes that aging is more pronounced in Indiana compared with the nation as a whole, especially in rural counties. The authors project that the older population of rural Indiana will grow rapidly “as the baby boomers retire en masse and as young people continue to leave.” This will create a need for additional labor to promote economic growth and for more services for the elderly.
• “Food Insecurity in Rural Indiana” explains that while the lack of adequate food for a healthy, active life is less prevalent in rural counties than in their urban counterparts, those dealing with it have more difficulty accessing the very programs designed to help them. The authors say leaders should determine whether the need for food aid has increased in their community and, if so, how to make healthy food more accessible to those needing it most.
• “The Role of Community Banks in Rural Indiana” notes that as the number of locally owned community “brick and mortar” banks deceases, the financial service needs of people in rural counties likely will be increasingly met through online banking.
Others published are “Population Trends in Rural Indiana,” “Poverty in Rural Indiana” and “Unemployment Trends in Rural Indiana.”
Other publications will be produced over coming months on such topics as food banks and pantries, nutrition, the condition of bridges, how poverty is linked to educational achievement, and availability of broadband Internet service.
The series is drawing on the resources of Purdue researchers, faculty and staff from the colleges of agriculture, education, engineering, health and human sciences and liberal arts, and the Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program.