Since the early 1970s rural research and public education programs have been intensified in efforts to improve living conditions and strengthen community life in rural America (Southern Perspectives 2000). During much of the 1990s, the nation, including the rural South, experienced a growing economy, a booming stock market, and declining unemployment rates (Gibbs 2001). However, many serious social problems traditionally associated with the rural South remain to this day (Gibbs 2001). This paper introduces the concept of social exclusion, used extensively in European countries and now part of the European Union's official lexicon. Social exclusion is defined as the process and the resulting condition in which specific social entities are fully or partially prevented from acquiring the basic necessities of life. Further components are that it is seen as a product of the social system, not an individual attribute, and that it is multi-dimensional and dynamic in time and space. It is argued that the concept of social exclusion should be incorporated into rural development policy discourse in the United States. This would aid in countering the predominant pattern of neglect in rural development policies and programs in addressing the persistent problems which exist.

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