The poverty of place : a comparative study of five rural counties in the Missouri Ozark
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Research on nonmetro poverty indicates that it tends to be both geographically discrete and persistent over time. Low income counties have been shown to have a negative effect on the income of bordering counties, increasing their poverty rates. These characteristics of rural poverty are evidenced throughout the U.S.A. by the existence of clusters of persistent low income counties. Although the existence of regions of poor rural counties have been noted since 1974, little county-level research has been done to further the understanding of the dynamics driving this phenomenon or to discover what types of public policies are likely to be successful at breaking up these areas of persistent poverty. The existence of a five county group in the south central Missouri Ozarks which contains four persistent low income counties clustered around a fifth county which has never been designated persistently poor creates an anomaly which invites study. This dissertation examines this cluster of counties in an attempt to discover why, contrary to what is expected, the county at the center of this group has been notably more prosperous over time than her persistently poor neighbors. When Lyson's concept of economic distance is applied to the five county region a relationship between the degree of county remoteness/isolation and low income appears to emerge. The counties with the highest remoteness value are found to have the lowest per capita income. Furthermore, the relationship between degree of remoteness/isolation and per capita income is found to be persistent over time, and indicates that the relationship between remoteness and income is ongoing. Research shows that the advantaged county developed transportation routes out of the region early in its history, reducing its isolation. The four persistent low income counties remain relatively isolated to date. Research conducted in this dissertation indicates that the relative isolation of the four counties is an important contributory factor to their persistent low income over time. The findings underscore the importance of the reduction of isolation to economic development. Further, they indicate that state investment in efficient transportation and technology routes in and out of persistent low income counties may be an important step towards breaking up clusters of persistent nonmetro poverty.