Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hollowing Out America

After reading Richard Longworth's thoughts about the book "Hollowing Out the Middle", I figured that I needed to digest the entire book. Carr and Kefalas (authors) do more than detail rural brain drain or even Midwestern brain drain. The policy review offered just about covers every type of initiative employed in the United States to deal with demographic issues shrinking so many communities.

In this regard, Iowa provided the perfect case study. The state has tried everything, or so one might think. Carr and Kefalas note the lack of investment in the people who, for one reason or another, manage to live out their lives in these small towns. Rural Iowa overlooks those who stay or quickly move back. The authors of the study essentially advocate taking advantage of established migration patterns. Besides, who could argue with improving the educational attainment of the current residents?

I'd recommend "Hollowing Out the Middle" to anyone concerned about out-migration. It is a humbling read and a great vehicle for sharing ideas. On the other hand, I don't think Carr and Kefalas make a convincing argument about why this crisis matters to other Americans who don't live in the Heartland. The list of places benefiting from agglomeration economies is much smaller than the list of those who don't. The acolytes of Richard Florida are coming to grips with the harsh realities of this economic geography.

However, I think the recommendations in the book can work. They already have in Pittsburgh. There still exists a shrinking city problem, but the long-term prospects of the city look pretty good. All small town rural Iowa has to do is weather a lost generation like what occurred in Southwestern Pennsylvania during the early 80s. I'd guess the fate of Brownsville or other Mon Valley factory towns is what awaits "Ellis", Iowa even if all the policy suggestions were implemented. A few will benefit, but most will die.

No comments: