Ask Minnesota Sen. Matt Schmit what his rural communities in Greater Minnesota need to prosper, and it doesn’t take long before the discussion turns to the importance of having high-speed Internet. “A good share of our rural homes and businesses still lack access to Minnesota’s very modest speed goals,” he says.
Schmit is not the only state lawmaker concerned about this lack of connectivity. Six years ago, the Legislature passed a bill calling for all Minnesotans to have access to those “modest speed goals” (10 megabits per second download and 5 Mbps upload) by 2015. As of last year, however, only 78 percent of households met that standard.
How will falling commodity prices impact the Midwest? All of the region’s major commodity crops — corn, wheat and soybeans — are going to be priced right around the cost of production for the next year, North Dakota State University agriculture economist Frayne Olson told lawmakers this summer at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting. And for the first time in many years, farmers will be losing money on their crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that net farm income will be down 36 percent from 2014 and reach its lowest level since 2002.
The causes of this hit to the farm economy range from a slowing global economy and a stronger U.S. dollar, to higher grain reserves and the weather. But what will be the broader effects of this fall in commodity prices on the region’s states?
The biggest impact will likely be felt in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, states where farm income provides more than 18 percent of gross domestic product and where one in four jobs are tied in some way to agriculture.
Through the summer of 2014, the news about rural employment was not good. While the U.S. economy as a whole was recovering from the recession, the number of people employed in rural areas remained weak, lagging more than 3 percent behind totals for 2007. And between the second quarters of 2010 and 2014, rural employment had grown only by 1.1 percent (compared to 5 percent in urban areas).
Though the number of people unemployed in rural areas was decreasing, that was due in part to factors such as outmigration and aging populations. Actual jobs had declined or stayed the same in the majority of non-metropolitan counties from 2000 through most of 2014.
But there has been a turnaround of late, especially in many of the Midwest’s rural counties. Over the past year, the rate of job gains in rural America, 1.2 percent, has come close to meeting those in urban counties, 1.8 percent.