The Importance of Place in Poverty Research and Policy conference, organized by the Rural Poverty Research Center of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), met in Washington, DC, March 3–4, 2004, to set an agenda for the future of rural poverty research and policy. As with the rural communities themselves, rural poverty is often cast in the shadow of urban and suburban issues. Yet, one in five Americans is rural, and a higher share of rural residents lives in poverty than urban (14% versus 11% for urban residents). Rural children are more likely to be poor, and poverty is more likely to be enduring and persistent in rural areas. Policies to improve the economic conditions of rural families, however, find themselves between a proverbial rock and a hard place. The diversity of needs and capacity in different places makes tailored policies more effective, which argues for community-based policy, yet the limited capacity to fund community-based policy initiatives in many poor communities argues for federal funding, guidelines, and oversight.
This quandary was a recurring theme at the conference. Although there is no silver bullet to eliminate rural poverty, policymakers and researchers at the conference gained important insights for addressing this complex issue. Drawing on what is known from past rural research and offering lessons from the wealth of new, rigorous studies of urban poverty, the conference was a first step in reshaping a research and policy agenda to fit the rural landscape.
The goal of the conference was specific: to identify priority research questions and policy imperatives to be addressed by a national agenda. Toward that end, participants reviewed the existing research on rural poverty, with a special emphasis on that since the 1990s; they explored the experiences of researchers who have conducted large-scale urban poverty projects to discern implications for rural research; they suggested approaches to rural issues that might provide more relevant insights for policy and program decision-making; they examined the data challenges in studying rural poverty, and they laid out steps for future research. (author abstract)