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January/February 2009

Inside This Issue:


Center Announces 2009 Research Grant Projects
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s board of directors approved six grant proposals and one mini grant proposal as part of the Center’s 2009 Research Grant Program. Four faculty of Pennsylvania State University and three faculty of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities submitted the successful proposals.

The research grant projects, set to begin February 1, will examine the use of specialty courts in rural counties, affordable child care, distance learning for the General Equivalency Diploma (GED), the impact of the statewide building code, county property reassessment, rising electricity costs, and the state’s GED database.

Senator John Gordner, the Center’s board chairman, says the grant projects will offer the General Assembly, local governments and community organizations the kind of information that will support future policy recommendations and programs.

“In collaboration with our university faculty partners, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania will again investigate issues relevant to rural Pennsylvania,” Sen. Gordner said. “The findings from this research, along with our past research results and rich database, will continue to provide policy and decision makers with information that is unique to rural Pennsylvania and its 3.4 million rural residents.” 

2009 Grant Projects
The Center’s traditional Research Grant Program offers a maximum funding level of $50,000 per project per year. The Mini Grant Program offers a maximum funding level of $10,000 per project for a nine-month period.

The grant awards under the traditional and mini grant programs are summarized below.

Specialty Courts in Rural Pennsylvania: Establishment, Practice and Effectiveness
Dr. Martha A. Troxell of Indiana University of Pennsylvania will study specialty courts in rural Pennsylvania counties. The study will include counties with and without existing courts and those that are planning to establish specialty courts. The study will examine alternative sentencing, in general, the associated costs and benefits of these courts, possible barriers to their use, public perceptions of them, and possible policy considerations for their use in rural Pennsylvania counties.

A Profile of Regulated Child Care in Rural Pennsylvania and the Families Using It
Dr. Elizabeth E. Manlove of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania will use existing data to examine rural/urban differences in the characteristics of child care in Pennsylvania. She will also examine child-care subsidies, including preferred type and hours of care. The study’s findings will be used to inform state programs and policies for child care in rural Pennsylvania.

Use and Impact of GED Distance Learning Options on Student Outcomes
Dr. Esther S. Prins of Pennsylvania State University will study the use of distance learning options available to students who are preparing to take the GED. The study will examine student characteristics, delivery systems and use, costs, and learner outcomes. The researcher will also develop policy considerations based on the findings.

Impact of the Uniform Construction Code in Rural Pennsylvania
Dr. Bohumil Kasal of Pennsylvania State University will use existing data sets and a survey of building code officials to assess building code enforcement approaches and building permit fees in Pennsylvania municipalities. He will also analyze the uniformity of code requirements across the state, housing permit data, and the potential impact of the code on homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Assessing and Mitigating Rising Electricity Prices in Rural Pennsylvania
Dr. Andrew Kleit of Pennsylvania State University will explore the impact of moving to market-based electricity pricing, specifically for rural Pennsylvanians. He also will evaluate demand management and distributed generation as strategies to mitigate rising electricity prices in rural areas.

County Property Reassessment Impact on Local Government
Dr. Jeffrey A. Weber of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania will examine the relationships between countywide reassessments and local tax revenues, tax rates, local tax burden, and the political impact on county and municipal governments and school districts.

Analysis of Rural and Urban Differences Among Pennsylvania Adults in Taking, Completing, and Passing the GED Test (Mini Grant)
Barbara Van Horn of Pennsylvania State University will use the GED scoring service database to create demographic, socio-economic, and academic profiles of Pennsylvania GED takers to examine rural and urban differences in taking and passing the test. She also will compare students studying independently versus those studying in formal GED classes.

Preparing for the 2010 Research Grant Program
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s board is currently identifying topics for the 2010 Research Grant Program. After the topics have been identified, the Center will issue its Request for Proposals (RFP).

While the Center’s grant program is only available to faculty at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities and Pennsylvania State University, the Center encourages cooperation and collaboration between these faculty and other public or private organizations.

For a copy of the 2010 RFP or more information about the Research Grant Program, call the Center at (717) 787-9555 or visit


Chairman’s Message
With the beginning of the new two-year legislative session, the Pennsylvania General Assembly will be focusing on, and prioritizing, the many challenges facing this commonwealth. The January 2009 issue of Governing magazine, published by Congressional Quarterly, Inc., includes a feature article on the top 10 issues that will shape debate in state legislatures in 2009. These issues include: balancing the budget, college tuition, guns, transportation, global warming, the social safety net, corrections, energy, health care costs, and redistricting.

As I consider that list, I believe many of those topics ring true for Pennsylvania. I also believe that accurate information and data are critical to deliberating these policy issues.

Over its 21-year history, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has been poised to contribute to legislative deliberations by drawing from its wealth of research and comprehensive statewide database. For example, the recently completed research sponsored by the Center on alternative wind energy addresses one of today’s important issues. And, as noted on Page 1, a project just underway will examine the impact of moving to market-based electricity pricing for rural Pennsylvania.

On the topic of college tuition, the Center has a Penn State research project in its third-year phase of surveying multiple grades of secondary students to track the factors and influences that affect their consideration, pursuit and success with postsecondary education opportunities.

On the issue of corrections, the Center published research on the impact of prisons on rural communities, and, just this month, released the report, Measuring and Analyzing Juvenile Recidivism in Rural and Urban Pennsylvania (see Page 5). As noted on Page 1, research on the establishment, practice and effectiveness of specialty courts in rural Pennsylvania, conducted by Indiana University of Pennsylvania researchers, is part of our project portfolio for 2009.

At all levels of government, transportation issues are a priority, and possible solutions are as varied as the problems. To understand how local municipalities are dealing with road and highway construction and maintenance, Center staff is developing an in-house survey for analysis and release later this year. 

Possibly one of the more difficult and emotional challenges facing government will be maintaining a safety net of health and human services for citizens when the economy has caused a heightened demand for services and a lack of revenues to underwrite them. To assist in providing a rural perspective, Lock Haven University researchers are initiating a study of regulated childcare and the families using it. Also, with support and programming from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Center will continue its work with rural communities, and the legislature, through its Pennsylvania Rural Families for Economic Success initiative. And, offering possible solutions to the financing of local community projects, including safety net programs, is the Center’s recent research report Wealth Transfer in Pennsylvania.

For many of Governing’s “top 10” issues, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania can draw from its extensive array of research and comprehensive database to offer a perspective on how this commonwealth, at all levels of government, can effectively address the challenges and opportunities facing us in 2009. I welcome our readership to use the Center in its deliberation and decision making processes and to offer up thoughts on how the Center can improve the products and services it provides to you.

Senator John Gordner


Safety of Private Wells for Drinking Water Examined
Millions of rural and suburban Pennsylvania residents rely on private wells for drinking water. And while research has shown that many private wells in the state have failed at least one drinking water standard, Pennsylvania remains one of the few states without any private well regulations.

To better understand the prevalence and causes of private well contamination and to evaluate the role of regulatory versus voluntary management of private wells, Bryan R. Swistock, Stephanie Clemens and Dr. William E. Sharpe of Pennsylvania State University conducted research on private wells in 2006 and 2007. The research, sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, looked to determine if specific indicators, such as natural factors, well construction features, and nearby land uses, could be correlated with water quality issues in private wells.

Data on pollutants
To complete the study, the researchers enlisted the help of more than 170 Master Well Owner Network (MWON) volunteers to collect samples from 701 private wells statewide.

Data from the study provided a wealth of information on the incidence of pollutants in private water wells throughout Pennsylvania, the causes of contamination, and the ability of well owners to detect and solve water quality problems voluntarily.

For example, about 41 percent of the samples from the tested wells failed at least one safe drinking water standard. However, the researchers found that, overall, the prevalence of contamination was stable or declining when compared to past studies. Lead contamination appeared to be declining in response to the 1991 Federal Lead and Copper Rule, and nitrate contamination was reduced from the early 1990s, presumably due to reduced applications of nitrogen through fertilizers and manures.

The study results demonstrated that natural variables, such as the type of bedrock geology where the well was drilled, were important in explaining the occurrence of most pollutants in wells. Soil moisture conditions at the time of sampling were the single most important variable in explaining the occurrence of bacteria in private wells.

Man’s activities, however, were also responsible for the increased incidence of some contaminants. Inadequate well construction was strongly correlated with the occurrence of both coliform and E. coli bacteria in wells. Nearly all lead contamination could be attributed to the historical use of lead plumbing components and the occurrence of naturally corrosive groundwater. Increased nitrate concentrations were strongly related to the location of the well in comparison to nearby agricultural fields. Overall, the research results suggest that naturally occurring groundwater is not always safe for human consumption and man’s current and past activities have worsened the situation for some pollutants.

About half of the homeowner participants in this study had never had their water tested properly, which resulted in low awareness of water quality problems. MWON volunteers were generally two to three times more likely to know about a health-related pollutant in their well, suggesting that education can greatly improve awareness of problems. Overall, up to 80 percent of the well owners that were shown to have unhealthy drinking water took steps to successfully avoid the problem within one year of having their water tested. 

Overcoming barriers
Results from this study suggest a combination of educational programs for homeowners and new regulations to overcome the largest barriers to safe drinking water. According to the researchers, regulations are warranted to increase mandatory testing of private water wells at the completion of new well construction and before finalization of any real estate transaction. For existing well owners, this study demonstrated the effect education can have to increase the frequency of water testing, the use of certified labs and awareness of water quality problems.

The results of the study do not make a strong case for the need for mandatory wellhead protection areas around private wells. In most cases, voluntary wellhead protection areas already existed around private wells in this study. As a result, the data seemed to confirm the importance and success of de facto wellhead protection areas of 50 to 100 feet that already exist around most wells.  

Research results available
For a copy of the research results, Drinking Water Quality in Rural Pennsylvania and the Effect of Management Practices, call the Center at (717) 787-9555, email or visit

Location of Sampled Wells, 2006 and 2007


Research Cites Need to Document Juvenile Recidivism in Pennsylvania
Juvenile crime remains a serious problem in the United States. In 2003, more than 2.2 million juveniles, or those under age 18, were arrested for various crimes; 92,300 were arrested for violent crimes, such as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. And, research has shown that a strong association exists between adolescent delinquency and adult criminality.

Pennsylvania, however, is one of the few states that do not report on juvenile recidivism. To estimate the extent of juvenile recidivism in Pennsylvania, Drs. David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania examined how and whether various characteristics of both the juvenile justice system and juvenile offender affect recidivism. For the research, recidivism was defined as a relapse or return to criminal activity by juvenile offenders.

Recidivism rates lower in rural counties
The researchers analyzed data from 1997 to 2005 on approximately 190,000 juveniles with a prior conviction to determine the factors leading to a reconviction. The data were from Pennsylvania’s Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research.

According to the research, recidivism rates were lowest in rural counties and highest in urban counties. The lower rural recidivism rates were especially pronounced for blacks, males, and those with a prior felony.

The research also helped to identify juvenile characteristics that deserve closer scrutiny to possibly reduce recidivism. The characteristics associated with increased recidivism were living in an urban county, being male or Hispanic, living with a single mother, having at least one deceased parent, committing a prior felony, and attending alternative education. According to the research, special attention should be given to juveniles living with single mothers or those with at least one deceased parent. More frequent contact with probation officers and closer court supervision may be beneficial for juveniles living in single-parent families as a means of reducing recidivism.

The research also indicated that an increase in the number of police per capita is associated with a slight decrease in recidivism. The socio-economic status of the juvenile’s county also affected recidivism. Juveniles living in counties with a higher per capita income had modestly improved recidivism rates. Lower socio-economic counties, as measured by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) per capita, had higher rates of recidivism.

This research demonstrated the feasibility, importance, and ongoing need to study juvenile recidivism in Pennsylvania. Many states already report on recidivism to better understand which intervention programs are successful and which need to be changed.

The researchers recommend that Pennsylvania begin to document juvenile recidivism and regularly issue formal reports. These reports could begin to document recidivism rates from juveniles released from specific placement facilities, such as group homes, secure detention facilities, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and Outward Bound-type programs.

The researchers also suggest linking the criminal records of adults with their juvenile records. By doing so, future research could determine what sorts of juvenile records are most likely to be followed by serious criminal offenses when the juvenile reaches adulthood. These records could also help determine the kinds of juvenile programs or dispositions that are most effective in reducing the likelihood of future crime.

Research results available
For a copy of the research results, Measuring and Analyzing Juvenile Recidivism in Rural and Urban Pennsylvania, call the Center at (717) 787-9555, email or visit


Rural Pennsylvania’s Low-Income Workers
Eighteen percent of employed adults in rural Pennsylvania are considered low income, according to an analysis by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Low-income is defined as having an income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of three, that would mean an income of less than $35,200 in 2008.

The Center completed the analysis of rural low-income working adults by reviewing the combined data from its 2006, 2007, and 2008 Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey (RuralPA-CPS). The Center also used the 2006, 2007, and 2008 federal Current Population Survey for state comparisons.

For the analysis, the Center defined low-income workers as those having the following characteristics: persons 18 years old or older, who were employed either part- or full-time, and lived in a household with a total income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level during 2006-2008.

A person lived in a rural county if the population density of the county was below the statewide average of 274 persons per square mile.

Demographic Characteristics
• The average age of rural low-income workers is 41.
• 57 percent of rural low-income workers are married, 25 percent were never married, and the remaining 18 percent are widowed, divorced or separated. Those who are not married are more likely to be female (62 percent) and younger (37 years old) than those who are married (44 years old). 
• 4 percent of rural low-income workers are minorities (non-white and/or Hispanic or Latino).
• 61 percent of rural low-income workers have children (persons under 18 years old) living in their household.
• 16 percent of rural children living in low-income working households live with a single parent.

Educational Characteristics
• 21 percent of rural low-income workers earned an associate’s degree or higher. On average, these individuals are 42 years old and female (56 percent).
• 11 percent of rural low-income workers do not have a high school diploma. Their average age is 39.

Employment Characteristics
• 18 percent of employed adults in rural Pennsylvania are low income.
• 55 percent live in a household where two or more persons are employed; 45 percent live in a household in which they are the only person employed.
• The top three employment sectors for rural low-income workers are retail (18 percent), food service, and manufacturing (both 14 percent).

• 73 percent of rural low-income workers are homeowners. 11 percent of these homeowners have no monthly mortgage payments. Those with a mortgage pay a median monthly payment of $500. 
• 27 percent of rural low-income workers rent their home and pay a median rent of $400 per month.

Government Assistance Programs
• 20 percent of rural low-income workers live in a household that receives heating assistance.
• 18 percent receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps).
• 7 percent receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

United States’ Low-Income Workers
• According to the federal Current Population Survey, approximately 26.9 million working Americans, or 19 percent of the workforce, are considered low income. 
• In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 915,600 low-income workers, or 15 percent of the workforce. Nationally, Pennsylvania has the 11th lowest percentage of low-income workers.
• The states with the lowest percentage of low-income workers are Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey. In each of these states, 12 percent or less of the workforce are low-income.
• The states with the highest percentage of low-income workers are Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. In each of these states, 24 percent or more workers are low-income.


Just the Facts: The Growth of Nonprofits
According to 2008 data from the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS), nearly 11,000 nonprofit organizations, or 501(c)(3)s, are located in rural Pennsylvania.

A 501(c)(3) is one of more than 15 different types of organizational tax exemptions granted by the IRS under section 501 of the IRS Code. 501(c)(3) exemptions are for charitable, educational, and religious organizations.

In Pennsylvania’s urban counties, there are more than 32,700 nonprofit organizations. Per capita, there is no statistically significant difference in the number of nonprofits in rural and urban Pennsylvania: in both areas, there are 3.5 nonprofit organizations for every 1,000 residents. 

Nationally, there are about 1.07 million nonprofits. California, New York and Texas have the most nonprofits, each with more than 70,000 organizations. Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming have the least, each with less than 4,000. Pennsylvania ranked fifth in the nation in the number of nonprofits.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady increase in the number of nonprofits in both rural and urban Pennsylvania.

From the 10-year period of 1988-1997 to the 10-year period of 1998-2007, rural counties gained more than 1,000 nonprofits, which translates to a 43 percent increase. The fastest growing types of nonprofits were those that focused on youth and sports. These types of organizations doubled during this period. 

Pennsylvania’s urban counties experienced a larger increase in nonprofit organizations from 1988-1997 to 1998-2007. During these periods, the number of urban nonprofits increased by 4,560, or 62 percent. Similar to rural areas, the fastest growing nonprofits were focused on youth and sports. 

In both rural and urban counties, the percent change in the number of nonprofits was not statistically correlated with population change, the age of the population, income, or the change in the number of businesses.  This could suggest that new nonprofits are being established for a variety of reasons that are unrelated to demographic or economic changes.

Data source: United States Internal Revenue Service