Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Upward mobility in rural America varies widely, and its upside has a downside: out-migration

Upward mobility is a defining tenet of the American Dream, but it may be out of reach for most people in some rural areas. And in rural areas with upward mobility, there's a downside: the upwardly mobile leave.

There is "great variation" in rates of upward mobility in rural areas, according to Eleanor Krause and Richard Reeves of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. They published a report this month detailing their studies on social mobility, as first studied by their colleague Raj Chetty. The analysis is notable for its inclusion of the nation's most rural counties.

"Certain rural counties have some of the highest mobility rates in the country, while others are 'mobility traps,' where children born to disadvantaged circumstances are extremely unlikely to get ahead," they write in an article about the report.

Counties with the highest rates of upward mobility tend to have better K-12 education, more stable families, and stronger local job markets. Those counties also have the highest outward migration rates, especially among youth and young adults -- so much so that the outward migration is draining the local populations there. In short, the rural areas with upward mobility are losing the successful people produced there.
Brookings Institution chart; click on it for a larger version
The report lists three approaches to improving upward mobility in rural America: Improve the quality of life for kids and teenagers, make sure rural areas have broadband connectivity, and invest in family-planning initiatives so rural residents can better plan the number and timing of their pregnancies. These measures may not significantly improve rural retention of upwardly mobile populations, but the authors say the most important goal is to help young people succeed in life, wherever that may be.

1 comment:

Jim Russell said...

The overall net migration rate between the lowest mobility counties and the highest mobility counties amounts to a difference of 2 or 3 more people leaving per 100 of the overall population. Both types of rural counties are losing population to migration quite slowly, with little difference between the two. Furthermore, we don't know from the data presented what the net effects of migration are on the presence of "successful people produced there." A few retirees leaving each year seeking a nicer climate isn't much to fret about and newcomers may sport college degrees. The number of "successful people" can go up significantly while the population declines.

I read the Brookings report. I did not see evidence of a downside. People are leaving successful rural communities, suggesting that net negative outmigration is a positive economic indicator benefiting the vast majority of people who either stay or return or are newcomers. Retention as a community goal doesn't make a lick of sense.