“The internet promised to boost the fortunes of rural areas by allowing more people to work from anywhere and freeing companies to expand and invest outside metropolitan areas. Those gains never materialized,” the Journal reports. "Lawmakers from both parties concede they overlooked escalating small-town problems for years. . . . Barack Obama’s administration tried to lift rural areas by pushing expanded broadband access, but found that service providers were reluctant to enter sparsely populated towns, said former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.”
Agriculture and light manufacturing, long the economic mainstays of small towns, offer fewer jobs as farms have consolidated and relatively low-skill factory jobs have been shifted to other countries. “As employers left small towns, many of the most ambitious young residents packed up and left, too,” the Journal reports. “In 1980, the median age of people in small towns and big cities almost matched. Today, the median age in small towns is about 41 years—five years above the median in big cities. A third of adults in urban areas hold a college degree, almost twice the share in rural counties, census figures show.”
Left behind in rural areas is a population that is increasingly less healthy than the rest of the country.
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog) in 2010 showed that the longer the commute, the less likely the commuter was to read the hometown newspaper, one measure of civic engagement.
Whatever the reasons, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the trend predicts that it will continue. Enrico Moretti found that “In densely populated labor markets (with more than one million workers) . . . the average wage is now one-third higher than in less-populated places that have 250,000 or fewer workers — a difference 50 percent larger than it was in the 1970s,” the Journal reports.