Friday, May 08, 2015

As the U.S. grows and diversifies, some rural towns have remained mostly unchanged

While the nation has continued to grow and become more diverse, a few small rural communities have remained mostly unchanged, Dan Barry reports for The New York Times. Since 2000, the U.S. population has grown from 32.7 million to 281 million, with large populations of Hispanics and Asians moving to the U.S. and to rural areas.

But in a town like Selinsgrove, Pa., which calls itself "America's Hometown," the population has barely changed, going from 5,384 in 1990 to 5,382 in 2000 to an estimated 5,675 today, Barry writes. The population is 93 percent white but "soars to nearly 100 percent when one factors out its two minimally diverse pockets, the idyllic campus of small Susquehanna University, and Pine Meadow, a neat subsidized housing complex that some locals refer to as ''Pine Ghetto.'" (Best Places map)

"George Kinney, 61, the curmudgeonly borough manager, is among those who prefer to keep Selinsgrove the way it is, and has been," Barry writes. "He mutters about the ''Ph.D.'s'' on the borough council who are nudging him from his job and wonders aloud why black and Hispanic people would want to move from New York and Philadelphia to his hometown." Kinney told Barry, ''That's the only reason we have those minorities, is Pine Meadow. They're coming in from all over the country. I don't know why they come here."

For decades Snyder County "was the county's marketplace, the place where farmers came to buy and sell," Barry writes. "Most were Lutheran and reformed Protestants with German surnames, although some were Amish and Mennonite; those two groups still occasionally roll into town in their horse-driven buggies. Most of the substantial changes in daily life have resulted from commerce. First there was a canal, then a railroad and, finally, the Susquehanna Mall, just north of the borough. The mall forced Market Street here to redefine itself, with boutiques selling antiques, gifts, rare books and high-end clothing. Throughout, the makeup of the people remained essentially the same: white and Protestant."

The town has seen a slight increase in minorities, having 72 more Hispanic residents, 119 more African American and 24 more Asians now than in 1990, but most of those residents either attend the university or living in Pine Meadow, Barry writes. But many of the minority college students don't stick around long enough to graduate. (Read more)

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