Need in Rural America Underestimated and Unmet, Report Finds

Need in Rural America Underestimated and Unmet, Report Finds

The level of need in rural states is higher than government measures suggest, a report from the Salvation Army and Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University finds.

The update to the 2017 Human Needs Index (HNI) — which is based on the Salvation Army's tracking of basic assistance, including meals, groceries, clothing, housing, furniture, medical services, and help with energy bills — found persistent pockets of poverty in many rural areas. According to the report, between 2004 and 2016 states with remote areas and higher population concentrations (e.g., Nevada, Colorado, and Michigan), as well as those with remote areas and lower population concentrations (e.g., Wyoming, Alaska, and North Dakota), had higher levels of need than non-remote states. The index also found higher levels of need in remote states than is suggested by the U.S. Census Bureau's  poverty, unemployment, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data.

One potential explanation for the discrepancy is that households in remote areas face challenges in accessing government services and are more likely to rely on the Salvation Army's Service Extension program, which serves rural populations with poverty-related needs. There's also some evidence that people living in remote areas would rather receive assistance from social service organizations or a congregation than from government. Another possible factor could be that many people in rural states continue to be underemployed or have stopped looking for a job, driving down the state's official unemployment rate.

"The Human Needs Index helps us understand that the needs and the challenges facing those in poverty in rural America may be quite complex — and how we address them may differ — from the needs of those living in poverty in urban areas," said Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

"Often these clients have difficulty accessing government services or are disproportionately affected by cuts in those programs," said Ron Busroe, national community relations and development secretary for the Salvation Army. "The fact that this analysis of the Human Needs Index reveals higher need in remote areas is something our Service Extension staff and volunteers have known for some time."

"Analysis of Human Needs Index Shows Unmet Need in Rural America." Salvation Army and Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Press Release 09/28/2017.