"It would be a mistake to enact policy solutions to save rural America at the expense of cities," write senior research assistant Nathan Arnosti and Director Amy Liu of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
"Recent efforts to bail out farmers amidst a trade war and exempt rural counties from work requirements to receive Medicaid and other safety-net services in effect hurt people and businesses in cities and suburbs," they write. "While these policy moves seem like clever ways to rebalance urban-rural economic divides, they could ultimately harm rural communities, too, by choking off the very engines that make rural investments possible. In fact, one of the best ways to help rural America may involve helping cities: supporting a distributed network of economically vibrant small and mid-sized cities across the United States."
The researchers argue that cities are the main drivers of prosperity that enables federal and state governments to maintain subsidies to rural areas; "proximity to cities can contribute to rural communities’ well-being due to the spillover benefits that cities generate;" and cities are places of opportunity "for ambitious rural residents to gain new skills and experiences, benefitting workers and their home communities. As described in Vox, sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas found that some people who leave their rural hometowns end up returning, filling specialized jobs in medicine, law, and other professions using the skills they developed in cities." They say this “return migration,” animates economic development strategies in some cities.
Here's their policy prescription: "Rather than sprinkle limited resources across every rural county, state and federal policymakers could target efforts to small and mid-sized markets by helping them strengthen commercial corridors and modernize existing industries." They say such cities "are better positioned to offer social and economic benefits to rural communities than distant, high-cost cities." They quote J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: "There’s a difference between out-migration from Eastern Kentucky to southwestern Ohio, and Eastern Kentucky and San Diego, because the former allows you to preserve some social connections; it’s cheaper to move there, it’s less culturally intimidating to move there. . . . If we can regionally develop big cities like Lexington, like Pittsburgh, like Columbus [it] enables people to maintain social connections even as they move to places with higher employment, and still play a positive role in communities back home."
The researchers have other prescriptions that are also likely to be controversial in rural areas. Read the article here.