Rural Population Change


As rural places and populations change, reformed policies and programs may be necessary to meet shifting needs, overcome new challenges, and take advantage of opportunities. Many rural populations are aging. Younger people are not flocking to rural areas, but many retirees are seeking out rural places. Furthermore, younger people who grew up in rural areas are leaving for urban areas while older residents are staying put. Aging poses both opportunities and challenges, affecting the workforce and economy and changing the kinds of amenities—like health care and recreational activities—that are desired. Rapid population growth, which is happening on the outskirts of major cities and in high amenity rural areas, also presents challenges and opportunities. New residents often revitalize small town economies, but in-migration also creates demands for infrastructure, like houses and schools, and social services. The pressure of these demands can lead to unplanned and environmentally destructive land use. Rapid development can limit agricultural land and local food supplies, degrade air and water quality, and encroach on wildlife habitat. Immigration has also broadened the ethnic diversity of rural areas, impacting rural economies and social norms. For example, new Hispanic residents are raising the fertility of rural populations and increasing the percent of non-English speakers, creating challenges for service providers like schools as well as opportunities for new businesses. Though ethnic in-migrants are often attracted to rural areas by jobs and lower costs of living, they often suffer high poverty rates due partly to limited access to educational opportunities, historic and contemporary racial discrimination in housing and labor markets, and lack of social integration. New research and policies are needed to ensure increased economic opportunities, social integration, and quality of life for all rural area residents.

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