Authors of a new book on poverty point to how decades-old factors have turned parts of rural America into the country’s poorest places, where women are often the most disadvantaged.

Kathryn Edin had just published a book on America’s poorest people when she was asked if she’d be interested in turning her research lens on poor places. When she did, Edin — a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University — was surprised at what she found.

She had long studied poverty in urban areas, but the poorest places in this country were actually rural, with long histories of power imbalances, corruption and an eroding social infrastructure that has kept poor people poor for generations. Many people think of rural America as predominantly White, but the poorest places in the nation are rural communities of color — and women are often the most disadvantaged.

“It was almost like a conversion experience,” Edin said. “Social science has been realizing slowly that where you grew up is as important for your life chances as your genes, your behavior, the quality of health care you receive. Place is hugely determinative — it determines to a large extent how things turned out for us. And I think as an individualistic culture, we really strain to believe that.”

In their new book, “The Injustice of Place,” released on August 8, the authors — Edin; Luke Shaefer, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan; and Timothy Nelson, a sociology lecturer at Princeton University — found that the poorest places in the United States fall into three primarily rural regions: Latinx-majority South Texas, Appalachia and the vast Cotton Belt of the American South.

The researchers created a new measure of poverty in U.S. communities called the Index of Deep Disadvantage, a holistic view of people’s lives that takes into account cyclical, cumulative and structural measures of poverty. They found that those in disadvantaged areas face unequal schooling, structural racism embedded in government programs, the collapse of infrastructure and entrenched public corruption — and can generally expect to die a decade earlier than Americans in more advantaged places.

Read the full article about The Injustice of Place by Mariel Padilla at The 19th.