America’s Displaced

When the well dries up people have to move, and this is just what is happening in the rural parts of America today. Rural people are finding themselves in a jobless desert. Abandoned house The results of the annual “Rural America at a Glance” report, provided by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, shows that migration from rural areas exceeds the birth rates in those areas and so rural populations are declining.

The Daily Yonder published an article including some helpful maps displaying population and employment information from the report. But the take-home message is quite simple: poverty is spreading through rural areas. “High-poverty” counties increased by 30% between 2000 and 2011.

As we all know all too personally, 2008 and 2009 brought a brutal loss of jobs in rural and metropolitan counties alike. But where metropolitan counties rebounded in 2010, rising steadily out of a pit of unemployment, net employment rates have leveled off in rural counties. Whether due to a loss of manufacturing jobs or, in the case of much of Appalachia, exhausted coal mines, rural people have been left with few choices.

Without jobs, many people are trying their luck in metropolitan areas instead. The report tells us the rural population decreased by 0.9%, or 44,000 residents from April 2010 to July 2012. This may not sound significant, but evidently it is unprecedented. 40,000 people leaving their beautiful countrysides for the soot of the city, deserted by their former employers. Our founder, Dr. Giles, took personal notice of what he called “a slow tragedy.” America’s own slow trickle of refugees.

Rural System was envisioned as a response to this abandonment of rural America, and as an effort to conserve natural resources with a for-profit system. Rural America is beset with a complicated mix of problems, inextricably interconnected. Addressing individual problems will only ever be a band-aid solution, and may even cause more problems. The only sure way is a holistic systems approach to restore the land with activities that provide jobs and produce profit.

The system approach we propose here would be designed to benefit humans as well as wildlife. Optimization of land management decisions will conserve resources and reduce waste, provide jobs for local people, and balance profits with conservation for the first time.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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