Monday, January 01, 2018

Why Small Town America Is in Decline

One year ago, Demo Memo posted a list of 10 demographic questions that could be answered by data released in 2017. Some of the 10 questions were answered, such as "Are Americans getting richer? The answer is yes, according to the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances. But the question, "What will save small town and rural America?" was not answered. Instead, 2017 only added to the accumulating evidence of small town ruin, from greater health problems to the disappearance of the American Dream. Not only are we at a loss to solve small town problems, but we don't even know what's causing them.

Until now: In a year-end opinion piece, The Gambler's Ruin of Small Cities, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman provides a compelling explanation for small town woes. He compares the plight of small towns to gamblers betting with pennies. The gambler who starts out with the smallest number of pennies is the one most likely to end up bankrupt. This is what's known as the "gambler's ruin." Small towns today have few pennies (economic opportunities) to play with and so eventually face gambler's ruin. "It makes sense to think of urban destinies as a random process of wins and losses in which small cities face a relatively high likelihood of experiencing gambler's ruin," explains Krugman.

Unfortunately, neither Krugman nor anyone else has a way to save small towns from gambler's ruin. It's all in the numbers. As Krugman explains: "For generations we have lived in an economy in which smaller cities have nothing going for them except historical luck, which eventually runs out."

No comments: