The Western, Rural Rustbelt: Learning from Local Fiscal Crisis in Oregon
49 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2015
Date Written: August 15, 2014
Oregon’s rural timber counties have a great deal in common with the historic, post-industrial towns and cities of the Midwest. In both settings, the Great Recession pressed more pain into areas already downtrodden by the automation of human labor and global marketplaces for construction materials like steel and timber. Gone are olden days of plentiful jobs at livable wages, when hard, steady work earned a man enough money to afford a patch of land and a safe, upwardly-mobile life for his children. When jobs are scarce long enough, individual hardship widens into collective hardship. Sinking revenues mean that local governments can no longer look out for people fallen on hard times, and public services drop to levels not seen since the days of the Wild West. Local voters, as well as state and federal legislators, face striking questions about how deep they are willing to cut back the public sector: Must there be police and ambulances available for emergency dispatch at night and on weekends? Do we need a safety net related to mental health disorders, drug addiction, and poverty in old age?
Rural Oregon thus has a great deal to learn from — and teach to — state and local governments of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and other hubs of steel and coal country. A more complete and nuanced picture of local fiscal crisis emerges from viewing the two regions together, a picture that overturns some of the settled political expectations and alignments created by viewing the traditional Rustbelt alone. In support of remedial efforts by legislators, scholars, and courts, the present article seeks to synthesize such a national exchange of experiences and policy experiments related to local government fiscal management.
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