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Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for Americaby Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas
"In 1940, the authors note, only one in 20 Americans possessed a college degree, and professionals such as doctors and lawyers were scattered around the country fairly evenly. In 1970, five years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that created a federal financial aid system, five percentage points separated the most — and least — educated regions of the country. By 2000 the 'regional education gap' had more than doubled, to 13 percentage points, reinforcing 'a level of uneven development not seen since the Civil War.'" Sarah L. Courteau, The Wilson Quarterly (read the entire WIlson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America's countryside. Articles and books — notably Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class — celebrate the migration of highly productive and creative workers to key cities. But what happens to the towns that they desert, and to the people who are left behind?
To answer that question, Carr and Kefalas moved to Ellis, a small town of two thousand. Ellis is typical of many places struggling to survive, and Iowa is typical of many states in the Heartland, aging rapidly. One reason is that many small towns simply aren't regenerating, but another is that its educated young people are leaving in droves.
In Ellis, Carr and Kefalas met the working-class stayers, trying to survive in the region's dying agro-industrial economy; the high-achieving and college-bound achievers, who often leave for good; the seekers who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and the returners, who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised Carr and Kefalas most, was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town's decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by underinvesting in those who choose to stay — even though these young people are their best chance for a future.
The emptying out of small towns is a national concern, but there are strategies for arresting the process and creating sustainable, thriving communities. Hollowing Out the Middle is a wake-up call we cannot afford to ignore — not only because sixty million Americans still live in rural communities and small towns, but because our nation's economic health and future is tied to the Heartland.
"Hollowing Out the Middle is a worthy contribution to a conversation we desperately need to have." The Wall Street Journal
"Hollowing Out the Middle is a rural panorama of heart-wrenching proportion." Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America and The Oxford Project
In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. They met and followed working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised them most was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave.
In a timely, new afterword, Carr and Kefalas address the question “so what can be done to save our communities?” They profile the efforts of dedicated community leaders actively resisting the hollowing out of Middle America. These individuals have creatively engaged small town youth—stayers and returners, seekers and achievers—and have implemented a variety of programs to combat the rural brain drain. These stories of civic engagement will certainly inspire and encourage readers struggling to defend their communities.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Patrick Carr is associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the author of Clean Streets.
Maria Kefalas held positions at the Brookings Institution, the University of Pennsylvania, and Barnard College before joining the faculty of Saint Josephs University, where she is associate professor in the Department of Sociology. She is the author of Working Class Heroes and Promises I Can Keep.
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