Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Why Some People Return to Small Towns

"How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" That question, posed in song lyrics nearly a century ago as migration from rural to urban areas picked up steam, is the same one asked by the USDA's Economic Research Service in a study of what brings people back to rural communities they had fled as young adults.

To answer the question, USDA researchers interviewed 300 attendees at high school reunions in remote rural communities. The communities studied were a distinct type: geographically disadvantaged nonmetropolitan counties that are losing population because of net out-migration. Far from urban centers, these counties also lack scenic amenities, and more people are moving out than moving in. You've seen these places when you drive from point A to point B— the ones where you ask yourself, why would anyone in their right mind want to live here?

That's what the researchers wanted to know. To find out, they traveled to high school reunions in 21 remote rural communities and interviewed attendees, identifying those at the reunion who had left their community as young adults and then returned. Why did they come back? Family turned out to be the primary motivation. Most returnees had parents living in the community, and they wanted to raise their children in a small town surrounded by family. Being able to find a job facilitated the return move. For high school reunion attendees who had not moved back, low wages and the lack of jobs were big factors. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic between those who had returned and those who would never return was the value they placed on small-town life. Returnees valued knowing everyone. Those who had no desire to return valued urban amenities and the anonymity of city life.

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Factors Affecting Former Residents' Returning to Rural Communities

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