Southernmost Texas, the far reaches of Maine, tribal lands nationwide, and the Delta region—these are among the areas that make up rural America. While their characteristics and geographies may vary, nonmetropolitan communities have at least one thing in common: overwhelmingly, they’ve not fared well in a global and ever-changing economy.

Nationwide, less than 20% of the population is in rural America. Yet, of the 353 persistently poor counties, 85% are rural. As defined by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, counties are persistently poor if 20% or more of the population has lived in poverty for the previous 30 years. That’s generations of families caught in an enduring and pervasive cycle of poverty.

A new white paper published by NeighborWorks America—Turning the Tide on Persistent Rural Poverty: Blueprint for A Path Forward—explores past initiatives designed to tackle persistent poverty in rural America. It also looks at challenges and working solutions identified by people living in and working with some of the nation’s poorest rural communities.

The paper’s authors, whose CDFIs serve extremely hard hit rural areas and who bring years of personal, on-the-ground perspective to their research, include OFN Board Members Jim King, CEO, Fahe, and Chrystel Cornelius, Executive Director of Oweesta, as well as Bill Bynum CEO of OFN Member HOPE and Nick Mitchell-Bennett, Executive Director of Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, also an OFN Member CDFI.

Released in early April, the paper is a cornerstone of this week’s NeighborWorks conference on rural poverty in Memphis. The three day event—today is the last day—called Hope in the Delta, Turning the Tides on Consistent Poverty convenes community development professionals, among them representatives from members of the NeighborWorks Rural Initiative, to address persistent rural poverty areas and lift-up asset-based strategies and award-winning contemporary community economic development projects. OFN President & CEO Lisa Mensah, a veteran economic development leader with extensive experience in rural financing, participated on a Tuesday panel at the conference, joining other experts—including King and Bynum—in a discussion of Infrastructure: New Tools, New Partners


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