County’s prosperity above average

Marion County is among the 300 rural counties across the country and 43 in Kansas that are more prosperous than the nation as a whole.


That?s what economist Andrew Isserman reported in his recent study that looks at measuring success of rural areas differently than the norm.


Instead of looking at population and income growth, Isserman looked at prosperity, which he defined as places that graduate their students from high school, have low rates of unemployment, have less poverty and offer housing that is both affordable and in good repair.

Isserman and associates Edward Feser and Drake Warren at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign wrote about prosperity in rural America.

Rural poverty, rural distress, rural population loss and rural competitive disadvantages receive ample attention in the popular press and the scholarly literature. The Isserman team focused its research instead on rural prosperity, something they said is so overlooked and unknown that many might think it is an oxymoron.

More than 300 rural counties and 200 mixed rural counties were more prosperous than the nation as a whole. Each had lower unemployment rates, lower poverty rates, lower school dropout rates and better housing conditions than the nation.

Their research sought to understand why. The diverse theories considered focus on location, the economy, urban-rural linkages, highways and airports, human and social capital, diversity and homogeneity, knowledge and creativity and climate and topography.

Some of the statistical results, they said, support empirically what many rural people believe to be true: religious groups and other identities that bind people together really matter.

Some findings are more conventional. Rural communities with relatively more people with some college education are more likely to prosper, as are communities with vigorous, competitive, private economies.

Other findings contradicted conventional thought. Geographical factors that are impossible or expensive to change, including climate and distances to cities and major airports, are relatively unimportant in distinguishing between prosperous and other rural places, according to their report.

Rural development thinking that focuses on prosperity, instead of the usual focus on growth, provides different answers and insights. Prosperity is a useful, new lens through which to consider the rural condition and rural policy.

Prosperous counties

Following are the 43 Kansas counties, with their population, that were found to be more prosperous than the nation as a whole: Barber 5,307, Chautauqua 4,359, Clay 8,822, Cloud 10,268, Coffey 8,865, Comanche 1,967, Decatur 3,472, Dickinson 19,344, Edwards 3,449, Ellsworth 6,525, Gove 3,068, Graham 2,946, Harper 6,536, Haskell 4,307, Hodgeman 2,085, Jewell 3,791, Kingman 8,673, Kiowa 3,278, Lane 2,155, Lincoln 3,578, Logan 3,046, Marion 13,361, Marshall 10,965, Meade 4,631, Mitchell 6,932, Morris 6,104, Morton 3,496, Nemaha 10,717, Ness 3,454, Norton 5,953, Osborne 4,452, Phillips 6,001, Pratt 9,647, Republic 5,835, Rooks 5,685, Rush 3,551, Russell 7,370, Smith 4,536, Stafford 4,789, Stevens 5,463, Trego 3,319, Washington 6,483.

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