Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Loka Ashwood

Second Advisor

Dr. Janet Stamatel


Approaches to explaining rural poverty highlight the social, economic, and political processes that contribute to poverty in rural communities, yet the political economy of agriculture has rarely been considered a determinant of rural poverty. Within rural sociology, peasant studies, and rural poverty are distinct subdisciplines; thus, farm and nonfarm poverty are viewed as mutually exclusive. This dissertation uses a three-paper format to: 1) examine the impact of changes to commodity programs on rural poverty rates in the Midwest; 2) investigate the impact of direct payments on rural poverty rates in the Midwest; and 3) explore the linkages between peasant studies, farm policy literature, and rural poverty literature in order to craft comprehensive rural policy that addresses the needs of people living across rural America.

This dissertation examines the connections between agricultural policy and rural poverty in rural counties in the Midwest between 1995 and 2019. By employing feasible generalized least squares (FGLS) models, this dissertation estimates the impact of the 2002 introduction of Direct and Counter-cyclical Payments (DCPs) and the 2014 enactment of Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs on county-level poverty rates. Additionally, this paper explores how the end of direct payments in 2014, the introduction of ARC and PLC programs, and the expansion of crop insurance have impacted rural poverty across rural counties in the Midwest. Data used in this dissertation draws from a variety of sources, including the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA), the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS), and the United States Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE). All agricultural data is gathered from various years of the Census of Agriculture.

My results indicate that commodity programs are doing very little to mitigate rural poverty. Following the introduction of ARC/PLC programs in 2014, the potential for commodity programs to reduce poverty declined and, in some counties, corresponded with an increase in poverty, where larger commodity payments relate to increases in poverty. When direct payments ended, policy changes to both crop insurance and commodity programs reduced the variation in poverty rates while standardizing poverty rates in rural counties in the Midwest at rates higher than the national average. My findings also suggest that changes in the agricultural sector impact the well-being of rural communities in the American Midwest.

Taken together, the bundle of programs contained within the Farm Safety Net can be improved for the farmers who need them the most, which has consequences for adjacent communities. I also discuss avenues for future research and policy implications.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Monday, April 28, 2025