Sociologist suggests three strategies for combating rural decline

A sociologist suggests rural communities can pursue three strategies to help them thrive in future decades:

Winchester, a sociologist and analyst of demographic changes, for years has battled against the narrative of rural decline. He argues although the percentage of Americans living in rural areas has been declining, contrary to some notions, the number of rural Americans has been rising, at least until very recently…

One is immigration. Any number of communities have seen school enrollments grow and Main Streets prosper and parks fill again with kids with the arrival of immigrants.

A second is to hang on to new retirees, particularly by paying attention to their housing needs.

Rural boomers want townhomes and condos and apartments just like urban counterparts. If those desires aren’t satisfied, they’ll move and take their Social Security payments out of the community. Those federal transfer payments amount to a fifth of the income in many rural communities, Winchester said, far surpassing the importance of agriculture.

And related to the boomers’ housing needs is an opportunity to appeal to the millennial generation. Winchester thinks housing will become more available in rural areas as boomers move, providing in turn affordable housing for young people priced out of the urban market.

This would seem to capitalize on three potential areas of growth. However, I imagine these factors are related to other factors that might be more difficult to find in rural areas:

1. A broad range of good-paying jobs.

2. A broad range of amenities and businesses.

3. A relative lack of social services.

4. A relative lack of walkability or public transportation options.

Yet, rural communities have the potential to try some new strategies. As Robert Wuthnow noted, small towns are not dead just yet.

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