In reality, rural America is in a perilous position — perhaps in greater danger of decay and decline than many cities.
Misconception #2: Idyllic Life
The second misconception is that rural America is doing fine, while the inner cities alone are in decline. Though the general population of rural communities is diverse, there are challenges that are increasingly pervasive and common among many of these people groups. This is due in part to national trends in population migration.
Over the past century, the U.S. has seen ongoing urbanization. In 1900, roughly 35 percent of the population lived in metropolitan areas. Today, that number is 86 percent. Urban sprawl has overtaken many formerly rural counties, transforming and reclassifying them. Fewer than 50 million people currently live in the 1,976 counties that remain classified as non-metro today, and the collective population within those counties is shrinking.
The result is a smaller American countryside comprised of slower-growing counties with a reduced and stagnant economic potential. Despite a resurgence of jobs and rising wages since the economic downturn of 2008, recovery in rural America is slower. In fact, rural employment rates remain below pre-recession levels.
A 25 percent decline in rural manufacturing caused 700,000 jobs to disappear between 2001 and 2015, with many of these jobs moving overseas. The jobs that do exist offer significantly lower salary rates than those in urban places.
Rural areas are also lagging in education and healthcare. Even as national education levels increase, there is a widening gap between the number of urban and rural dwellers with college degrees.
The Demographics Research Group at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia reports that since 1990, college graduates living at the center of the nation’s 50 largest metro …