This study explores how rural residents’ livelihood strategies are shaped by community economic and population characteristics. We use qualitative data from interviews and focus groups with low-income residents and social service providers (N=85 participants) in two rural New England counties to understand livelihood strategies within rural places. We then employ quantitative data to understand how these strategies are shaped by local historical labor markets and demographic characteristics. Although one county attracts wealthy retirees, with corresponding work opportunities in the service sector, and the other is remote and losing population, low-income workers in both places are struggling to make ends meet. We suggest that work-promoting public policies incorporate a nuanced approach that considers not only how to support rural workforce development, but also how to develop economic opportunities while attending to the complex variation between rural places.

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