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By Matt Hayes
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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
A research project at Cornell aims to provide the most comprehensive analysis of the role state and local government policies play on the economic growth and well-being of rural communities in the United States.

Mildred Warner, professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, received a $500,000 grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to evaluate state policies and local government factors affecting inclusive development.

Rural communities face increasing challenges as economic, social and political pressures squeeze budgets and fray public services. Shifting state policies force rural communities to respond, as states transfer some responsibilities and costs to local governments. Up until now most research into this policy area has focused on how urban municipalities respond to state government action. The new Cornell study will perform a statistical analysis of revenue and expenditures by rural governments from 2007-2017 to explore the impact the Great Recession had on communities in the more than 3,100 counties in the U.S., with an emphasis on understanding inequalities by place, gender and race.

Warner, an international expert on restructuring local government services, will study the complex inequalities in the relationships between state policies, local government service delivery, and economic development.

“It is clear local governments provide the critical physical and social infrastructure for community wellbeing," Warner said. "What can state and local dynamics after the Great Recession teach us about what to expect in the post-COVID-19 time period?”

As part of the study the researchers will track changes in revenue from federal aid, state aid, local sources — such as property taxes, sales taxes and fees— and expenditures on education, infrastructure, health and social welfare, as well as local capital investment. The team will look to identify the rural “left-behind” — those communities struggling to cope with policy dynamics initiated at higher levels.

Project collaborators include Linda Lobao, professor at Ohio State University; Yuanshuo Xu, Ph.D. ’19, assistant professor at Zhejiang University; Xue Zhang, Ph.D ‘19, postdoctoral researcher at Cornell Global Development; and Paige Kelly, a postdoctoral researcher starting June 1 at Cornell.

Header image is a rural American town. Credit: Unsplash

Mildred Warner

Mildred Warner is an international expert on restructuring local government services, how to plan for more child and age-friendly cities, and how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level. Decentralization has elevated the importance of local government worldwide, but social protection is challenged by devolution, privatization, and fiscal crisis. Cities must pick up the slack and Warner's research explores how. 

Discover more at her faculty profile

Mildred Warner

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