Rural Iowa's launching pad for growth: Medicare for All

Glenn Hurst is a family physician in southwest Iowa and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Several years ago, a man called my clinic seeking an appointment. He did not have insurance, and in fact had not seen a physician since childhood. But on this day, he was desperate. He had felt a popping sensation in his abdomen and thought he might have a hernia. If that was true, he needed surgery, and we were the gateway to that service. We agreed to see him and to work out a payment plan later.

When I entered the exam room, it was clear something was wrong. Here was a man in his late 50s who did not look well. His skin had a bronze-yellow tint, his cheeks were sunken in, and his belly protruded. He was weak and disheveled. He repeated his story about the popping sensation and told me he could feel something protruding.

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New "reemployment" plan won't solve Iowa workforce shortage

“We want to get Iowans back to work!” Governor Kim Reynolds tweeted on October 20, touting a new business grant program financed through the American Rescue Plan, which she used to denounce as a “blue state bailout.”

But there was more: “We also announced a new reemployment case management system to refocus Iowa’s unemployment system and ensure Iowans can get back to work as quickly as possible.”

That’s a creative way of saying Reynolds plans to push more Iowans into available jobs by making it harder for them to collect unemployment benefits. However, the policy changes the governor announced at her latest news conference won’t address several important reasons many Iowans remain out of the workforce.

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Catholic nuns to Cindy Axne: Tax the rich

Sister Jeanie and Sister Elaine Hagedorn, who co-authored this post, are Catholic sisters with the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. They live in Des Moines and are longtime advocates for Catholic social justice with groups like NETWORK.

No matter where we come from or what we look like, Iowans believe that working families deserve a fair shot. All work has value, and all working people have rights, from farmworkers in vibrant rural towns to factory workers in our bustling cities. But for too long, a greedy few corporations and CEOs have rigged the game in Iowa and across the world, taking from working people to make sure that a powerful few can get rich off the profit that working Iowans, particularly Black and Brown working Iowans, produce.

For years, wages in Iowa have stagnated for everyone, and the racial wealth gap has exacerbated inequalities embedded in our economic system. In particular, Black, Brown, and Indigenous workers have been pushed to the economic margins by systemic inequality in our tax code. Meanwhile, the climate crisis continues to put all Iowa families at risk as storms like the 2020 derecho devastate working neighborhoods.

As Catholic nuns with decades of ministry experience in Iowa, we have worked closely with those most impacted by Iowa’s inequities. Union workers, immigrant communities, hungry children, and houseless families have turned to social services, religious communities, and mutual aid efforts because of our state and federal government’s misplaced priorities.

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More evidence cutting jobless benefits didn't boost Iowa's economy

The latest Iowa employment statistics “are disappointing,” Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson tweeted on September 17 after the U.S. Department of Labor released new figures for August. Swenson noted, “Total employed and total labor force are down, unemployment levels rose slightly, and unemployment rate is unchanged” at 4.1 percent. Meanwhile, Payroll nonfarm jobs declined.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ decision to cut off pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits in June (three months early) “to goose the economy turned out to be a dud,” in Swenson’s view.

A growing body of research supports that conclusion.

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Let’s pretend rural Iowa is Mars

Richard Lindgren: A “Mars-on-Earth New City” project is far easier to do, much cheaper, and with much more immediate societal benefit if you pick a spot in America’s struggling heartland. -promoted by Laura Belin

So, I have watched the bizarre unpiloted, billion-dollar carnival ride that took Jeff Bezos into the barest edge of “space.” We are looking at spending more billions of dollars as a collective society to pursue a goal of living on the moon or Mars, for some just for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but also because some fear that a future Earth may cease to be inhabitable.

Here is a simple brain game: What if we pretended that some place on Earth with challenges to daily habitability is a viable way-station for Mars, and spend our research dollars there instead? I nominate rural southern Iowa, where storm clouds hover over the future. I’m serious.

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"No uptick in employment" in states ending pandemic benefits

Census survey data indicates that there was “no uptick in employment” in the twelve states that cut residents off from federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits in mid-June. However, residents of those states were more likely to report it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to pay for usual household expenses, compared to surveys conducted before the unemployment programs ended. 

Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at UMass Amherst, published his findings on July 18.

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