Major Difficulties in Reinvigorating U.S. Rural Areas

As previously discussed in this blog, most rural areas of the U.S. have aging, declining population. Therefore, this blog has advocated for increasing immigration and having these immigrants settle in the small and medium-size towns in these areas.[1]

However, Eduardo Porter, an economics writer for the New York Times, presents persuasive reasons why  reinvigorating these rural areas has been and will be very difficult.[2]

He starts by pointing out that for the last 25 years the 60 million people now living on farms and in hamlets and small towns have experienced “relentless economic decline” in terms of median income and population along with an increase in median age. Moreover, their share of U.S. population and income are shrinking while crime and opioid abuse are increasing. The result is “intensifying ruralization of distress,” with “distress”  measured “as a combination of data ranging from joblessness and poverty to abandoned homes and educational attainment.” Indeed, he says, “These days, economic growth bypasses rural economies.”

Although many ideas have surfaced on how to address and alleviate these problems, Porter is very doubtful that they will be successful.

The primary reason is “the inescapable reality of agglomeration, one of the most powerful forces shaping the American economy over the last three decades. Innovative companies choose to locate where other successful, innovative companies are. That’s where they can find lots of highly skilled workers. The more densely packed these pools of talent are, the more workers can learn from each other and the more productive they become. This dynamic feeds on itself, drawing more high-tech firms and highly skilled workers to where they already are.”

Therefore, he endorses a suggestion in a Brookings Institution report that any effort to address the problems of rural America should “focus on middle-sized places that are near big tech hubs and have some critical infrastructure, rather than scatter assistance all over the landscape.”

Another suggestion is to help rural residents relocate to prosperous cities and, therefore, focus on developing affordable housing in these cities.

Moreover, not all cities are equal in this regard. A Wall Street Journal article asserts, “Technology is creating an economy in which superstar employees work for superstar firms that gather them into superstar cities, leading to a stark geographic concentration of wealth.[3] The article cites to a study by the Brookings Institution that created an index of every metro area in the U.S.  according to the extent to which their workers use computers in their jobs (their digitalization), Those indices resulted in the following list of superstar cities:

  San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

  California-Lexington Park, Md.

  Huntsville, Ala.

  Boulder, Colo.

  Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.

  Trenton, N.J.

 Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Md.-W.Va.

 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.

  Austin-Round Rock, Texas

  San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.

  Ann Arbor, Mich.

  Salt Lake City, Utah

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[1] See the posts listed in the “U.S. Population & Immigration”  section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (POLITICS).

[2]  Porter, The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy, N.Y. Times (Dec. 14, 2018).

[3] Mims, Where You Should Move to Make the Most Money: America’s Superstar Cities, W.S.J. (Dec. 15, 2018).

More Voices on White Anxiety and Immigration   

Other academics and authors have voiced opinions on white anxiety and immigration that complement the prior post on this subject. Other sources advocate for reduced immigration.

Acacemic Examination of Immigration Opinions

According to Diana C. Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania, many white voters in the 2016 presidential election who voted for Donald Trump did so because “they felt threatened by increasing numbers of minorities and the sense that the [U.S.] was losing its global dominance” or  “status shock” for short.[1]

Professor Mutz and her colleague Edward D. Mansfield suggest that racial mistrust is a critical determinant of people’s feelings about globalization. According to their work, whites prejudiced against other ethnic groups tend to believe that the United States is superior to other countries and that it should refrain from engagement in world affairs.

Mutz says, “For white Americans, the political consequences of racial and global status threat seem to point in similar directions with respect to issue positions: opposition to immigration, rejection of international trade relationships and perceptions of China as a threat to American well-being.”

Over the long-term, diversity may increase the political support for globalization. Demographic change does not threaten minorities as it does white Americans. They never held whites’ position of power. For Hispanics and Asian-Americans, specifically, demographic change translates as more clout. Research by Ms. Mutz finds that minorities view trade and international outsourcing much more favorably than white Americans do.

Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, suggests that demographic change will most likely relax racial and ethnic divisions. Not only is intermarriage rising, but current racial definitions are also unlikely to hold. The question is what is going to happen between now and then.

A Cornell University sociologist, Daniel T. Lichter, suggests that if the demographic profile of poverty remains constant, by 2050 over 70 percent of America’s poor will be from today’s minority groups.

One lesson of the 2016 election is that it is easy to exploit racial mistrust, xenophobia and ethnic hostility for political gain.

A friend and practicing immigration attorney has suggested the following additional resources on white anxiety and immigration policy:

Advocates for Reduced Immigration

This friend also points out that a favorable perspective on the White American theme (often characterized as “Western European” roots) can be found in Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster (Random House 1995) and in the publications of Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA for Lower Immigration Levels and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) even though these three groups often are cited as authoritative voices for reduced immigration and for Trump Administration policies.[2]

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[1] Eduardo Porter, Whites’ Unease Shadows the Politics of a More Diverse America, N.Y. Times (May 22, 2018).

[2] See Tess Owen, A Radical Anti-Immigration Group Infiltrated the GOP. Now It’s in the White HouseVice (May 3, 2017, 9:17 AM)(emphasizing the close ties between FAIR and influential advisers to President Trump, including Julie Kirchner, Jeff Sessions, Kris Kobach, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and Lou Barletta); Heidi Beirich, Hate Groups Like Center for Immigration Studies Want You to Believe They’re MainstreamS. Poverty Law Ctr.(Mar. 23, 2017).