On the other hand, all across this country, I’ve visited (and lived in) small towns from Maine to Indiana to Virginia to Colorado to New Mexico that are flourishing. Sometimes the ones that are flourishing are just miles away from those that aren’t, providing a natural experiment to determine what makes a difference and what works. There are quite a few commonalities among the towns that are doing well. One that stands out is that these thriving places have high-speed internet service and reliable cell service. What seemed like a “nice to have” only 20 years ago is absolutely a baseline requirement these days to attract and retain citizens and businesses.Another commonality is what some people call “placemaking.” Most of these towns have invested in themselves. They spruced up downtowns with new sidewalks and street lights. They helped landlords repair and enhance storefront facades. They supported the real estate investors who come in and rehabilitated signature, historical buildings, like old textile mills in New England, tobacco warehouses in North Carolina, Victorian-era houses in Colorado mining towns and adobe buildings in New Mexico. Most of all, these towns celebrate their history, rather than tear it all down.
This brief examines demographic trends in rural America, a region often overlooked in a nation dominated by urban interests. Yet, 46 million people live in rural areas that encompass 72 percent of the land area of the United States. In all, 746 counties representing 24 percent of all U.S. counties are depopulating, and nearly all of them—91 percent—are rural. Just 9 percent of urban counties are depopulating (Figure 1). Such depopulation is a clear indicator of a lack of demographic vitality in a significant part of rural America. Over one-third (35 percent) of all rural counties (676) are depopulating (Figure 2). Today, only 6.2 million residents remain in these depopulating rural counties, a third fewer than resided there in 1950.Though rural depopulation is widespread, many rural counties are thriving and gaining population. Indeed, 35 percent (673) were at their peak population in 2010 and contained 24.8 million residents in 2016—54.5 percent of the rural total. Such growing rural counties often benefit from proximity to metropolitan areas or are centers of recreational and retirement activity that attract urban tourists, retirees, and businesses. The remaining 31 percent (599) of rural counties, which contain 14.6 million residents or 32 percent of the rural population, have had mixed periods of growth and decline, but their cumulative population losses have been far more modest than in the depopulating counties that have been in decline for many years.
Nearly three-quarters of the downloads hitting Microsoft servers from nonmetropolitan counties are so slow they don’t meet the FCC definition of broadband. Microsoft’s county-level data shows a big gap between what the federal government says is available and what people actually use.Overall, according to Microsoft, half of the U.S. population, or about 162 million residents, did not use the internet at a minimum of 25 Mbps download. By comparison, that’s roughly seven times the size of the population that the official FCC data says does not have download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
So she’s not the sort of person you expect to lead folks into potentially uncomfortable conversations about contentious topics. But that’s exactly what she does with the Rural Climate Dialogues. The dialogues assemble a representative sample of rural community members to explore climate change and create a community response plan. The dialogues are not a feel-good pep talk for like-minded thinkers. They include people with starkly different opinions. They probe the topics you try to avoid at the elementary school-chili supper fundraiser, the ecumenical potluck, or anywhere else rural people tread delicately through the minefield of polarized politics. Claussen says when communities prepare properly for a discussion on polarizing topics, there’s nothing to worry about. And she isn’t just being polite about it. “We [must] walk into this vulnerable space and have a conversation about something that has been tagged as too polarizing and just too deep, that will somehow derail us if we go there,” she said. “We need to go directly to the center of those issues. To have faith in each other. To have faith in people who you think don’t align with your views.”
Northern Initiatives covers a large 78-county service area primarily in rural Michigan, along with a few counties in northeast Wisconsin. While it worked over the years to provide capital and know-how to small business owners in Michigan and Wisconsin, the community development financial institution (CDFI) knew it had an issue: How could its staff best provide entrepreneurs with support services that improve a business’ chances of succeeding with a start up loan? To solve this problem, the organization launched an online “customer portal” with information and training that address the most commonly identified business needs. “In 2014, we decided to build this customer portal,” said Northern Initiatives President Dennis West. “We started to put together the resources. We produced 10 videos, started to be able to deliver content online for our borrowers, saw that it was promising, and we continued to build out the portal. Now it has 21 videos, six financial calculators, 100 articles and recorded webinars.” The online resources are organized around the topics of money, marketing and management. “The platform becomes a way we can deliver more content to our customers, a portal for delivering a blended learning approach where our customers can get access to information, terms and definitions so that coaching sessions can be more productive focusing on strategies and tactics to solve challenges,” West said.
With the number of devastating fires expected to increase as the climate grows warmer and drier, experts and states want to see more federal investment in projects that could avert massive blazes. Most forestry experts, including many environmentalists, say protecting communities from fire requires land managers to cut down problem trees, brush and saplings, and set prescribed burns that restore fire’s natural role in forest ecology.Due to the rising costs of fighting fires, however, the U.S. Forest Service lacks money and staff necessary for projects that could make future fires less severe.“The non-fire staffing in the agency has been gutted because our budget stayed flat, but the cost of wildfire had increased so greatly,” said Melissa Baumann, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ Forest Service Council, the union that represents Forest Service workers.
The exceptionally low unemployment rate is good news for American workers. But it contributes to a growing problem: Companies can’t find enough employees. This puts downward pressure on corporate and U.S. economic growth.Recent government statistics indicate that nearly 7 million non-farm jobs were unfilled. This includes 278,000 in construction and 493,000 in manufacturing. But it gets worse. The worker shortage in manufacturing is projected to reach 2.4 million by 2028, according to a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.The inability to find workers, especially those with greater talents, is preventing companies from expanding. And it’s costly. The consulting firm Korn Ferry predicts the skilled worker deficit will result in $1.75 trillion in lost revenue annually for American companies by 2030.
Since the 1990s, immigrants have migrated to rural areas at unprecedented rates, accounting for 37 percent of overall rural growth from 2000 to 2018. They come and fill crucial roles vacated by native-born Americans, ranging from the much-needed labor force in agricultural industries to the vital healthcare professionals in underserved regions. Although immigrants make valuable contributions to rural society, they are not necessarily well-treated nor particularly welcomed by locals. Immigrant farmworkers are often prone to exploitation and abuse in the workplace, with little power to improve their situation due to the lack of farmworker labor rights. Anti-immigrant sentiments also pervade rural communities, often giving rise to a misconceived fear of foreigners. Nevertheless, the upsurge of immigrants has inarguably helped revitalize dying towns, even saving some from collapse. “[Immigrants] are consumers. They come in, end up buying groceries, buying houses, and manage to keep the market going in these places where otherwise there wouldn’t be much demand,” Jennifer Van Hook, professor of sociology and demography at The Pennsylvania State University, told The Politic.The effects of the burgeoning immigration population are not purely limited to economic benefits. Immigrants breathe fresh life into crumbling societies, helping to avert the buildup of a disproportionately elderly population, livening up schools, and increasing cultural diversity.
Arizona will join a drought plan for the Colorado River, narrowly meeting a federal deadline that threatened to blow up a compromise years in the making for the seven states that draw water from the constrained river. The Arizona House and Senate overwhelmingly supported the legislation and Gov. Doug Ducey promptly signed it, delivering the final puzzle piece needed to avoid potentially more severe cutbacks imposed by the federal government.
One of the biggest things keeping vets out of rural practices is that for many of them, the idea of living in a rural area is not something they have any interest in doing. There's no Target, you have to drive to have a nightlife, and nowhere delivers (unless you're lucky and have a nearby pizza place). That subset of grads will never join a rural practice, no matter what. Of the vets left who may move to a rural area, the biggest barriers are often a financial one and a work-life associated one. Rural practices often offer substantially lower salaries, and they often have small staffs requiring the vet to work longer hours and more days. This combination of working harder for less money drives many vets away from rural areas, or at least to commute to a larger practice in an urban or suburban area in many cases.Keeping those doctors in rural practice is a simple enough thing in concept: just offer better compensation. More doctors come to work, they share case-load, can afford to live, and everybody wins. Unfortunately, a rural practice often has fewer and less affluent clientele, and often can't afford to pay those salaries. To counter that, universities and industry could offer more scholarships for students pursuing a career in rural practice. The VMLRP could receive additional funding to provide funding for vets in a wider variety of practice types, provide more funding to existing recipients, provide funding for more currently un-listed high-need areas, or some combination. There could be more industry, state, and federal grants to help with practice development.