The Press Drives Out to the Country

USA Today adds to Times on gas hit to rural U.S.

The press has written quite a bit about how the price of gasoline is making the exurban lifestyle cost prohibitive for some. The old “drive until you qualify” for a mortgage dictum, especially in high-price places like California, no longer computes, and home prices in those long-commute towns are getting slammed harder than just about anywhere.

USA Today today looks at how gas prices are killing rural communities. The New York Times wrote a similar story three weeks ago, but we don’t subscribe to the “one and done” philosophy of journalism. Most people who read your paper don’t read others, editors. Anyway, we think city-slicker reporters ought to get out to the sticks more often.

In so doing, USA Today finds a town in northern California that isn’t even hooked up to the electric grid. The general store runs on $5 of diesel an hour. Needless to say this has the townsfolk bleak about the future. The store’s owner thinks the country’s headed for “a depression.”

Soaring gas prices are a double-whammy for many rural residents: They often pay more than people who live in cities and suburbs because of the expense of hauling fuel to their communities, and they must drive greater distances for life’s necessities: work, groceries, medical care and, of course, gas.

Meanwhile, incomes typically are lower in rural areas, making increasingly high gas prices an especially urgent concern. Rural households also are more likely to have older, less fuel-efficient vehicles such as pickups, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) says.

In Allen, Nebraska, the paper finds the only gas station and grocery store have closed, forcing residents to drive eleven miles and twenty-one miles respectively to get to the nearest ones.

Rural America has already been in a world of hurt for decades and soaring gas prices are only going to force more people out of small towns. We need more reporting like this on the repercussions for all of us.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.