Partners for Rural Transformation

Eliminating persistent poverty, advancing prosperity and economic justice

PRT Federal Policy Priorities October 2020

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Transforming Persistent Poverty in America: How Community Development Financial Institutions Drive Economic Opportunity 

Perhaps nowhere else in the United States is the structural exclusion by race and place more self–evident than in persistent poverty America. On its face, persistent poverty is a measure used to describe counties and parishes where the poverty rate has eclipsed 20% for three decades in a row. A closer examination of the population of residents living in the counties, however, paints a picture that is steadfastly rural and marred by racial inequity. Of the 395 persistent poverty counties, eight out of ten are nonmetro and the majority (60%) of people living in persistent poverty counties are people of color.

Often, in regions of persistent poverty, other forms of distress are also present – high unemployment, a lack of access to banking services, a paucity of quality affordable housing and safe drinking water – all of which contribute to higher rates of premature death and lower health outcomes:

  • 86% of persistent poverty counties have unemployment rates in excess of the national average;
  • Three-quarters of the 158 counties nationwide that have household unbanked/underbanked rates at 1.5 times the national average are persistent poverty counties;
  • Eighty-one percent (81%) of persistent poverty counties are in the bottom quartile of counties in terms of health outcomes; 
  • Of the 395 persistent poverty counties, a “health related drinking violation” occurred in approximately 42% of the
    counties – nearly five percentage points higher than the rate nationally. 

Partners for Rural Transformation is a national coalition dedicated to advancing economic mobility in persistent poverty areas.

395. That’s the number of counties where the poverty rate has been at or above 20 percent for three decades in a row. We call this persistent poverty. That means for the 6.9 million people who live in these communities, the deck is stacked against them—they face enormous barriers to health and opportunity. And when we allow these gaps in rural areas to persist, the whole nation suffers.

But we don’t think of persistent poverty as a permanent state or as a given. These communities have been structurally and systematically left behind and disinvested, but they’re also home to enormous strength and resilience. We know this because we live and work in these communities. With intentional investment, we can right these wrongs. The members of PRT have come together to provide the basics every community needs – quality jobs, housing, infrastructure and other vital needs . With and through the people who live here, we are creating healthy communities with access to healthcare, financial security, resident leadership, and economic development to reach our vision of bringing all communities of persistent poverty out of poverty. 

Here’s how: From the development of entrepreneurs who create jobs to the expansion of safe affordable housing; from increased access to financial services to more readily accessible drinking water and public infrastructure; community development finance institutions leverage the power of finance to bring capital into communities and regions that otherwise suffer from disinvestment. CDFIs strengthen local economies, generate wealth that sticks, and foster agency and power among local people to determine their own destiny.

We represent people in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Native American Country, and the Colonias. While the areas we represent are different in terms of histories, racial demographics, economies, and geographies, we are bound together by our shared humanity and desire to live in thriving communities. By working together across geographical boundaries we are able to share knowledge that leads to greater impact, allowing us to reach more of the markets we serve.

Our Accomplishments

  • Advocated for federal USDA & Treasury appropriations bills to intentionally and systematically invest in areas of persistent poverty
  • Won funds from the Communities Facilities Relending Program & Uplift America Fund Award to “lift up the economic prospects of communities that have not benefited from the revitalization of rural America”
  • Hosted a Mobility out of Poverty Summit in Birmingham, AL
  • Created bi-partisan, multi-agency support for persistent poverty-focused programs and funding
  • Submitted Public Comments on the Duty to Serve Program
  • Hosted Rural Places / Rural Spaces event, joined by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Jerome H. Powell

Partners for Rural Transformation in the News

National Mortgage News – CRA Reform Crucial for Tackling Rural Poverty

Shelterforce –

Nonprofit Quarterly –

Learn More –  Partners for Rural Transformation Fact Sheet


The Partners for Rural Transformation Organizational Steering Committee

We are grateful for the support and guidance of our steering committee, which is made up of the following organizations. Please visit their websites for more information on their work. Support for this collaborative is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NeighborWorks America.