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COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Wisconsin's Rural-Urban Divide

Maayan Silver
Protesters descended on the Wisconsin State Capitol to speak out against the state's safer-at-home order.

The urban-rural divide in Wisconsin has become ingrained in our culture. Right now, that divide is dangerous. 

Ideological divides have led to in-fighting in state government, with the Republican-led Legislature pitting itself against Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. Some rural communities that haven’t been hit hard by the pandemic are questioning the need for social distancing mandates, while people in cities are seeing their communities ravaged by the disease.

"In some of our rural counties there hasn't been a single identified case of COVID-19 yet and these also tend to be places where their economies have been struggling for decades now. And so the idea of having businesses stay closed another month is just really hard to bear," says Kathy Cramer, a professor of political science at UW-Madison and the author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker

She continues, "There are many people who are feeling like the policy of staying at home, the stay-at-home order, has been created for the urban condition," without considering the needs of rural communities.

But although the pandemic has been slow to hit rural communities, they aren't immune from it. In fact, Cramer explains, Wisconsin's rural communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the disease. 

"Our more rural counties tend to be older, there’s a higher proportion of the population that’s older. And also many of them have been designated as medically underserved places," she says. 

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.