Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research 5:1 (February 1995). Copyright © 1995 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


The editors and authors of this fine collection of articles, though mostly sociologists, demonstrate how geography is in a sense destiny to the rural poor. By focusing on nine regions spanning the country from New England to the Rio Grande Valley to the Pacific Northwest, they show how social as well as spatial isolation has created common problems among a rural underclass that is "forgotten" by mainstream America.

Socio-spatial isolation may take many forms, but the outcome for all the places studied is the same: lack of full participation in American economic life. Educational isolation in the Black Belt of the South has produced a population only half of which has a high school education. In Mississippi, traditional paternalistic society and attendant race and class separatism has produced dependency and small spheres of opportunity for the region's blacks and single-parent families, and thus some of the lowest poverty rates in the nation. Per capita earnings in the Lower Mississippi Delta region are a full 20 to 25% lower than the rest of the nation. Isolation may also be more explicitly physical, as in the Missouri Ozarks where the decline of the backwoods timber and mining industries has produced an underclass of low wage service workers in the now flourishing tourist industry. The Ozarks article documents a type of informal economy working in Douglas County, Missouri, that is far removed from the experience of most of us working in a post-industrial society. Families have found ways to survive without cash . (some better than others), by gardening, stock raising, food preservation, and trading and sharing of all types of goods and services, all that defy quantification: "The value of orange-yolked, fresh eggs is different from the retail store price of factory eggs. The value of giving them is different from the value of selling them" (p. 44).