The State of Rural Pennsylvania: Economic Agenda

Authors: 
Stephen Herzenberg
Publication Date: 
August 1, 2007

Link to Rural Summary

An Economic Agenda for Rural Pennsylvania

The data presented in The State of Rural Pennsylvania underscore the need for new economic policies that would bring more robust prosperity to rural Pennsylvania. In the absence of a comprehensive state or federal policy response to economic globalization and the decline in manufacturing jobs, rural Pennsylvania has struggled economically over the past three decades.

Link to Rural Summary

An Economic Agenda for Rural Pennsylvania

The data presented in The State of Rural Pennsylvania underscore the need for new economic policies that would bring more robust prosperity to rural Pennsylvania. In the absence of a comprehensive state or federal policy response to economic globalization and the decline in manufacturing jobs, rural Pennsylvania has struggled economically over the past three decades.

At the same time, the economic free fall of the early 1980s is long past. Now, before a new economic crisis or new wave of manufacturing job losses, is the time to chart and implement a course for rural prosperity.

What action steps should an economic agenda to renew rural Pennsylvania include? The State of Rural Pennsylvania presents a five-point agenda (see the complete report for full details), developed with input from an advisory group of rural Pennsylvanians and grounded also in economic research:

1. Develop a business plan for rural Pennsylvania and the key leadership at the state and regional level to implement it.

2. Become a national model in rural education and skill development for the 21st century.

  • Invest in a statewide community and four-year college infrastructure that makes postsecondary education accessible and affordable throughout rural Pennsylvania.
  • Continue to invest in an industry linked workforce development approach
  • Raise state K-12 funding so that all rural schools have funds adequate for a quality education
  • Deliver increased prekindergarten investment through flexible rural delivery systems

4. Invest in economic development strategies that capitalize on the existing strengths of rural areas and create good jobs.

  • Fund the development and implementation of comprehensive economic strategies for each rural region
  • Deepen the state’s manufacturing strategy to build on existing industry clusters in rural areas, including by investing state dollars in industry collaborations on technology, marketing, and innovation
  • Develop job quality improvement strategies in rural industries with big shares of low-wage jobs (such as tourism, agriculture, and long-term care)
  • Enact business subsidy accountability legislation that ensures that subsidized rural businesses help create middle-class jobs

5. Support the long-term security of the rural middle class through more affordable access to health insurance and retirement security.

6. Lower the rural share of state taxes through more progressive taxation. When taxes are regressive, and Pennsylvania’s are highly so, lower-income taxpayers pay a bigger share of their income in taxes than higher-income taxpayers. As a result, rural Pennsylvania currently pays a substantially larger share of its total income in state and local taxes than does suburban Pennsylvania.

While developed independently, the recommendations prsented here overlap those in three recent reports released by the Brookings Institution and the Pennsylvania Economy League.

Given the emerging consensus on what it would take to boost prosperity in rural Pennsylvania, an unmatched opportunity exists to move forward.

Here’s the bottom line: The global economic challenges facing rural Pennsylvania are immense and unprecedented.

The market economy is a great institution, but it will not automatically or by itself address these challenges. Rural Pennsylvanians have to get together and to work together in some new ways if they want to create a possible future that meets the economic aspirations of individuals and families, fills young people with hope, and becomes an example for the nation. Through enlightened leadership, citizen engagement, and creative problem solving, rural Pennsylvania can achieve the prosperous future and robust quality of life it deserves.