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National politics generate local story ideas

As newspaper publishers worried about tariffs on newsprint, farmers and others in rural America worried about tariffs on other products that could spark a trade war. The Rural Blog is keeping its readers current on trade and many other issues; here’s a sampling of stories from the last couple of months.

One-third of U.S. soybeans go to China. The president of the American Soybean Association called President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum “a disastrous course of action,” and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers have “legitimate anxiety,” not just about retaliatory tariffs on products, but on the steel tariffs’ effect on farm-equipment costs. See our report at

In mid-March, the last U.S. maker of steel beer kegs, in Pottstown, Pa., laid off one-third of its workers. We reported that at The Brookings Institution calculated the impact of the tariffs on each state and produced a good chart, which we ran at The Washington Post produced a chart showing how Republican opinions on trade have shifted to match Trump’s; we ran it at with a Politico report saying agriculture is “particularly vulnerable” to retaliatory tariffs.

Double whammy

In February, Perdue told Congress that the rural economy is fragile, and as he was speaking, the American Farm Bureau Federation was publishing a warning from a Tennessee farmer about another big issue facing rural America: the opioid epidemic. “Our focus on national regulations and global trade are real issues that need to be addressed, but the future of farming and ranching may be just as dependent on our awareness of curbing the opioid dependency in our grassroots communities where individuals influence national changes,” he wrote. See

New research from the University of Kentucky shows that the opioid epidemic isn’t disproportionately rural, but rural areas have a tougher time dealing with it because of limited access to treatment. We reported it at Research by Penn State and Texas A&M concluded that the crisis may be exacerbated by declining farm income, extreme weather and other natural disasters. Read about it at

One challenge to dealing with the opioid epidemic is the stigma still attached to addiction in many rural areas, but that can be countered with reporting of success stories about people who overcome addiction, according to recent research we reported at Stigma is also an obstacle to mental-health treatment in rural areas, we reported at

Your local health

The annual County Health Rankings, released March 14, are a snapshot of each county’s health factors and outcomes, compared to other counties in the same state. They are something of a blunt instrument, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get people’s attention. Our research in Kentucky shows that newspapers are increasingly reporting their county’s rankings. Read our story, with a link to them, at

When it comes to health care, the Medicaid program is the main linchpin for rural areas, partly because of the support it provides for hospitals and clinics. It pays for more than half of rural births, Kaiser Health News noted in its “Medicaid Nation” series, which we gave a glimpse at The rural benefits of Medicaid are not widely known; rural residents tend to vote Republican even as GOP lawmakers vote to reverse Medicaid’s expansion.

Maps with local data

If you read The Rural Blog regularly, you know that we love maps with local data, usually at the county level. There’s enough interesting data out there for every newspaper in America to publish a significant data point in every edition, but not enough of them do it. Here are some maps we’ve run lately.

An interactive map with local data showed the level of economic distress in every county, and some may surprise you:

Politico did an interesting story about financial guru Dave Ramsey, in which he said he sees more people worrying about their finances. It included a map showing, in ranges, the percentage of people in each county who are the targets of debt collectors. We shared it at

A national study with an interactive map found that, in 99 percent of U.S. counties, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food-stamp) benefits are not enough to cover the full cost of an inexpensive meal, even for those who have no net income. See

Also on the food front, a study found that independent grocery stores in rural areas were hit harder by the Great Recession than those in urban areas. It included a county-level map showing the number of independent groceries for every 10,000 people. See

The lack of healthy grocery supplies in some rural areas may be less about supply than demand, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. We reported it, with a county-level map, at

A study of deaths due to alcohol, drugs, suicide, and interpersonal violence included a county-level map: Your county’s number of drug-overdose deaths may surprise you, because most don’t make the news, but the number shouldn’t be a surprise of you are keeping up through your local coroner or medical examiner.

Something else that often goes unreported, but your coroner can tell you about, is suicide. The more rural a place, the higher its suicide rate is likely to be. An interactive map from Governing magazine tells the story, and we shared it at

If you see stories, maps or anything else with rural resonance that belong on The Rural Blog, let me know at [email protected].