To understand how rural America has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to grasp that rural America is not a monolith. Communities are diverse both in terms of race and ethnicity, and in economic profile. The largest employer in rural communities is actually in the service sector. Specifically, employment in rural areas is dominated by the education, health, and social assistance industries. This shift to the service sector has been driven by several factors that have led to a proliferation of low-wage workers.

Another important thing to note is that rural America is not all white, either, though the media have led us to believe that to be the case. This means that we ignore the fact that one in ten African Americans lives in a rural community, or that the majority of Native Americans live in rural areas throughout the West.

The most immediate action that will benefit rural communities is the expansion of Medicaid that was a critical part of the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate is 15.5 percent in rural areas in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, while in rural states that have done so, it is under 10 percent. Individuals without coverage are less likely to seek medical care for minor issues, which often flare up into major medical emergencies. Medicaid expansion also lowers the levels of uncompensated care for hospitals. This is a crucial issue for rural hospitals that struggle with financial viability. Finally, it is essential that we make it easier for immigrant health professionals to remain in this country so they can continue to practice in rural communities. Restrictions on visas, inefficient work authorizations processes, and residency requirements are making it difficult for physicians to remain in these places.

Read the full article about rural America in COVID recovery by Olugbenga Ajilore at Democracy Journal.