What are the effects of rural depopulation?

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Rural population reached its peak in the 1940s and 1950s. This undoubtedly was connected to the rise of agriculture as America's primary economic force. In the last fifty years, nearly half of all rural counties are declining in population. From 2010 to 2016, only 57% of counties gained population. This trend is one that has been in motion for half a century. As agricultural jobs began to fail in providing a basic income, many people moved to cities for employment. Moreover, the high morbidity rate, paired with the historically relatively low fertility rate, is not growing or even maintaining the population in these areas.

The effects that rural depopulation has on these areas can be devastating. First, the obvious "brain drain" has taken a toll on the education levels and overall quality of the community. Academia and large employers, almost always located in the city, have taken the best students from the rural areas. These young people face a choice later on whether to return or to follow their career.

Another critical effect can be seen in the school systems. As the population leaves, so does vital tax revenue. Schools cannot be funded and often close or lead to mass consolidation. When the schools begin to fail, they fail to attract strong teachers, and the academic levels drop drastically. This doesn't entice anyone to move into these rural areas, and the cycle continues.

From my own experience living in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, I can attest to all of this. My small town was once inhabited by 1,000 people and now has barely 500. Our school was shut down and consolidated and, soon, nearly all of the businesses failed. This was, of course, an effect of the loss of coal mining jobs in Appalachia.

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