The Continued Thinning of Rural Iowa
By Dave Swenson
The economic development stars are aligned against our rural areas across the whole Midwest, not just in Iowa. People move to jobs, and jobs go where the people are. However much we want it to be otherwise, rural areas in the Midwest are struggling and will continue to struggle, and there is nothing on the horizon suggesting the patterns of the past three decades will change.
Dave Swenson is a long-time analyst of Iowa political, social, and economic issues. He is a staff research economist at Iowa State University and an extension-to-communities economics educator. He also teaches community and regional planners (those nefarious agents of totalitarian control) how to do economic things in their profession.
The outward migration is not founded in fallacy, it is founded in reality. There are those that can live completely full lives in rural areas, but modern economics continue to propel people into urban areas. However much we may wish it to be different or be able to describe an alternate scenario, the labor market's tug is too powerful to overcome.
Indeed telecommunications and other modern marvels may make folks feel more connected with the outside world, but that will not eliminate in any way the dis-amenities of rural life. No matter what you have been led to believe, your access to goods, services, health care, and education for children are hindered.
Many of our young adults migrate out not because they want to, but because they have to. Our rural economies simply cannot use them. And for many, our state economy can't use them either.
It is a paradox, but it is a very measurable and disturbing pattern nonetheless.
Dave Swenson | firstname.lastname@example.org | May 18, 2010 1:42 PM
A great credit to our outward migration, from what I've seen growing up in and moving back to small town Iowa, is the negative outlook on our own culture we were fed by teachers and parents. I've been told most of my life that if we didn't do well in school we'd have to stay here and work the same jobs our parents did, and our parents told us college was the only ticket to a good life.
So what happened? Most people my age left for higher education, few of us really got something out of it, and even fewer returned. It's rediculous how many mid-twenties I know who moved to a college town and now stock shelves there at Wal-Mart or Blockbuster, saying they like the amenities of a larger town and there's no place to work around here. I, however, moved back to this small town and we can't find enough creative and intelligent people to fill our workforce!
"So what do you do there for fun?" I ask my estranged childhood cohorts. They reply with an embarrased description of a boring life. What do I do for fun in my rural hometown? Something great every day! Live bands, ethnic food, and travel to the city for a few hours followed by a beautiful drive home to a star-filled sky and breathtaking landscape.
I see this outward migration as founded in fallacy. Opportunities abound in areas of small population, especially now that we're increasingly easily connected with the rest of the world. We're trained to feel nothing could be worse, though, and can't shake our paradigms about the location of opportunity.
Ken Kahl | May 18, 2010 10:38 AM
availability of high speed internet will mitigate the costs of rural living greatly. Provision & educati on are what's needed
richard heady | email@example.com | May 15, 2010 11:13 AM
Even if jobs were to exist in rural areas, one has to look at pay and cost of living. Certainly real estate is cheaper in rural areas, but other than that, so much of what is consumed comes from factories far away, and therefore costs the same as it does for city folks (sometimes more, depending on transportation).
I moved to Iowa from Colorado Springs, and my real cost of living went up, because my salary decreased more than my expenses. You really have to want something from what rural Iowa has to offer to make the move.
I fear that if oil prices rise in a sustained way, the emptying of rural Iowa will only accelerate, as many currently drive a long way each day to work in our cities and larger towns.
Thanks, as always, for a thoughtful piece.
Andrew Bell | firstname.lastname@example.org | May 12, 2010 1:03 PM