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Rural communities bearing the brunt of inflation

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Posted at 1:05 PM, Apr 08, 2022

WESTERNPORT, Md. — From the top of a hill, with his dogs by his side, David Grove always has a good perspective on things.

Unfortunately, that perspective is not quite as positive as it once was.

"There's not much industry left," Grove said. "All the industry is as moved out."

David retired from a paper mill in the Appalachian town of Westernport before it closed three years ago.

The closure put hundreds of people out of a work. Since it was the largest employer for miles, its exit left his neighbors hurting. Now, inflation is making the existing hardships tougher.

"The things shutting down in this whole area makes inflation, you know, what, 10-times worse," Grove said.

Grove's wife still works, which makes him one of the lucky ones.

"We're surviving, but these other people, probably not so much," he said.

Those living in America’s rural corners and those with low incomes are being disproportionately hit by inflation.

Bank of America Research compared how rural and urban households spend their money. It found rural homes spend more money on energy, cars and food compared to urban households. Rural households also put less in savings.

Rural residents also need to drive farther to get to stores and doctor's offices, which adds to the costs families face.

According to Gallup, 71% of households making less than $40,000 per year are experiencing hardships, and 42% consider their hardships severe.

"It's just hard that to get back to where, where we was, and I don't know whether it's going back to where we was and it's just a shame," Grove said.

The last three years for John Shingler, owner of Port West Restaurant, have been a one-two-three punch— with the mill closure, the pandemic and now inflation.

"$1.79 for a head of lettuce right now, you know, it's crazy," said Shingler.

Even though they lost 30% of their customers when the mill closed, the food prices have given him no choice but to raise his own prices.

"It's hard for these small rural communities like this to understand why we have to raise prices because it's not like in a big city where they're used to paying those prices," he said.

His customers, though, remain loyal.

"They've kind of rescued us through this," Shingler said. "They've supported us tremendously."

Communities like Westernport are used to picking each other up when times get hard, and the fact that they’re there for each other is why people choose to stay despite how bleak the outlook may be.

"This is my home, and I like my home," said Grove.