‘The Rural Brain Drain’

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, posted today, defines the “rural brain drain” as the persistent instance of educated young people moving away from the rural towns in which they grew up. Now, many of these small towns are on the verge of extinction, and it’s time to ask: What is going on in small-town America?

Most of the time, the rural crisis takes a back seat to more visible big-city troubles. So while there is a veritable academic industry devoted to chronicling urban decline, small towns’ struggles are off the grid. And yet, upon close inspection, the rural and urban downturns have much in common, even though conventional wisdom casts the small town as embodiment of all that is right with America and the inner city as all that is wrong with it.

As the article’s authors (a husband-and-wife team of sociologists) say: “The rural crisis has been ignored for far too long, but, we believe, it isn’t too late to start paying attention.” On that note, here are a few select UMP titles that study rural farm and family life in the Midwest and in California:

Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America, by Jennifer Sherman. Following the stories of economic collapse in a Northern California town and what they tell us about rural America.

Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy, by Dean Hulse. An evocative and inspiring memoir of a vibrant rural North Dakota.

Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000, by Richard Steven Street. The relationship between California farmworkers and the photographers who have documented their lives.

Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression, by Carrie A. Meyer. A story both intimate and epic that paints a vivid picture of Midwestern farm life.

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