Commentary: Are Rural Areas Doomed to Stagnation?

In a commentary piece for The Conversation (2019-05-07), Iowa State University Associate Scientist of Economics David Swenson postulated that rural areas throughout the nation will likely continue to see economic and population declines. In the commentary, Davis stated: “[t]he facts are clear and unarguable. Most of the nation’s smaller urban and rural counties are not growing and will not grow.”
Davis noted that metropolitan counties (counties with central cities with 50,000+ population) received about 99% of all job and population growth between 2008 and 2017. Seventy one percent of metropolitan counties saw growth over this time period. On the other hand, more than half of the remaining micropolitan counties (counties with cities between 10,000 and 50,000 residents) and rural counties had zero growth or lost population. The problem is most acute in the Northeast and Midwest. In the Northeast, 87% of micropolitan counties and 85% of rural counties saw negative growth. Davis stated that negative growth in one micropolitan or rural county can negatively affect the growth in adjacent micropolitan and rural counties (a “ripple effect.”)
From the article:
Small and medium-sized urban areas – and the rural counties that are linked to them – are left with transportation, public works, housing and commercial bases that they struggle to maintain. Inevitably, blight ensues. Most micropolitan and rural communities have no viable economic Plan B, so I believe that the majority of them are fated to dwindle until eventually reaching some level of stability.
Federal and state governments provide them fresh water and wastewater treatment assistance, health care access, subsidized transportation and workforce training, but none of that alters the underlying forces inhibiting their collective prospects for growth. Every core industry originally undergirding these areas continues to shed jobs.
Davis urged policymakers to develop policies assuring micropolitan and rural counties with access to necessary public services, including Internet.
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