Two Faces of Rural America

They publish some good maps over at the Daily Yonder. This week editor Bill Bishop updated the national map of unemployment for non-metropolitan counties.

“Fascinating,” I’m sure you’re thinking.  Yes, i know we’ve all heard enough about the potential double-dip recession (The Ghost of the Great Reset?) to make us all nauseous, even before Wall Street got their knickers in a bundle this week.  Still, the recurring pattern draws me more than the change.

The map reveals a pattern that should be familiar to readers of the Daily Yonder. The lowest rural unemployment rates are in counties between the Mississippi River and the western slope of the Rockies.

The lowest of the low rates are in the Great Plains. Of the 50 rural counties with the lowest unemployment rates in the country, 18 are in Nebraska (out of 93 counties) and 16 are in North Dakota (out of 53 counties). One out of three North Dakota counties has an unemployment rate below six percent. Many of these counties have small populations.

None of the 50 counties with the lowest unemployment were east of the Mississippi River.

It’s not what has changed, but what has stayed the same.  The face of rural distress in Middle America is not Demon Unemployment.  If there is work, we work; if there isn’t, we go find work.  A couple years ago, I worked on a research project with a couple other Regional Development Commissions to conduct a case study of out-migration, a continuing issue in our area.  We didn’t come up with all the answers, but we realize we need to keep working on the problem.

There are some hopeful signs for Greater Minnesota, that I suspect might apply across the Great Plains.  Young families are moving back to small towns and rural areas—maybe not enough of them to replace those older and younger leaving, but there is movement.  Ben Winchester with University of Minnesota Extension has put some of his “Brain Gain” findings on the web now:

High school graduates might leave rural areas for college and jobs in the big city, but more are coming back with college degrees, careers, professional contacts, and young families. Still others with these credentials are moving to rural communities for the first time. Extension’s demographic research, publications, and perspectives on this brain gain can help community leaders consider what this means for their rural area.

Winchester further explained his findings to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Fedgazette newspaper:

fedgazette: Conventional wisdom says that young people are leaving rural towns, old people are staying and rural areas are generally stagnating. What does your research find?

Winchester: People are actually moving to rural places, and it isn’t necessarily to work on a farm. This rural renaissance has been happening since the 1970s. And it’s not just immigrant communities moving in; it is people moving to just about every rural Minnesota county. These newcomers are largely people between the ages of 30 and 45, some of whom previously lived in a small town and want to return to that lifestyle, while others are looking for an increased quality of life.

Nothing stays the same, especially those things that look like they do.


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1 Response to Two Faces of Rural America

  1. Pingback: What Women Want (When Thinking About Moving To A Small Town) - JC

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