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Lisa Prater
Senior Contributor

Young people leaving home

Cheryl Tevis wrote an interesting column this month on young people leaving the farms and small towns and not coming back. There's the perception that there's nothing for them in small towns.


Are you seeing this happen in your town? Is your town/area doing anything to try and keep young people there?


I know for my husband and me, we were both living and working in Des Moines when we met. When we got married, we knew we didn't want to raise our future children in Des Moines, and looked for a smaller town. Even the town where I grew up, just south of Des Moines, had grown so much and was bigger than we wanted, so we opted for a rural school district in the same county and bought our place in the country.


Read Cheryl's column, Take the Long Road Home, and share your thoughts!




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20 Replies
Honored Advisor

Re: Young people leaving home

You can consult US Census stats, and see where population has slipped into negative territory.  Much of that is rural America.  Our NC county is one of those, unless I've been told wrong, and I think a lot of factors cause this flight. 

Poor-performing schools are a death spiral initiator.  If kids escape a place by the skin of their teeth educationally, the last thing they'd do is drag their own offspring back to be sacrificed on that altar. 

Lack of employment or even entrepreneurial opportunities, and comparatively poor salaries in the public sector when set beside city pay scales,  do not serve as a siren's song to lure anyone, roots or not.   

When you throw in the cost of commuting from the country, with gasoline prices doing what they are doing today and will continue to do for the foreseeble future, it is hard to justify many jobs in town and a rural home.  It just does not pencil out.  Period.

High speed Internet is already in rural areas, if you want to pay more, and it's not the be-all and end-all.  It and satellite TV just allow people to see more of what they are "missing"  out here in the sticks. 

Grants will take up to seven years to make DSL arrive here to us, and wireless/cell-based WiFi, etc.,  will have come down enough in price to be competitive when it does, so why bother with the outrageously expensive infrastructure? 

That is going to be one of the questions we will all have to ask ourselves:  For example, why is there a $2 million dollar USDA Rural Development grant going to build a water line to less than ten houses in our county???  Good, code-compliant wells for the whole bunch would cost only abourt $50,000.  As a nation, we cannot continue to afford such nonsense.  (BTW, I know why the water line is being pitched, but it is a nasty political situation if you tell the truth about it.)

A lot of what Cheryl is writing about is "potential" improvements to rural life...and potential means "it ain't been done yet."  Telemedicine and Early College are starts, but they are still taking only baby steps...and will only serve certain limited purposes even when they are up and fully running. 

I once heard a great comedian whose punch line on giving directions in Atlanta was "you can't get there from here."  I think it at least partially applies to this do we get to Cheryl's potential position from where we are today? 

I am not totally pessimistic about a Rural American Renaissance, but I am not putting a lot of faith in it yet, either.  I think that is a realistic point of view. 

We have managed as a family to help maintain country lifestyles for our three young adult offspring, but it has not been easy or cheap.  No government or public institution made it one tiny bit simpler to do, either, much less helped at all.  One of them needs to make a career and educational move now to continue to live out of town/  We are only speculating/hoping/dreaming that it will work longterm...but I am willing to help her try. 


I hope we get some more feedback on this topic.  It is one near and dear to my heart, too. 

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Lisa Prater
Senior Contributor

Re: Young people leaving home

You make a lot of good points. I have to have satellite Internet, since no other high-speed option is available for me. Most of the time that's OK, but when I have a bunch of stories or photos to upload, for example, I go to my parents' house about 20 minutes away because I can get so much more work done in a shorter amount of time at their house.


The schools in our district could be better, but my kids are excelling, partly because my husband and I spend a lot of time reading with them and making sure they're doing and understanding their homework. And I complain about a few school employees a fair amount, but the amazing parents of my boys' friends have formed a network, and we are actually getting things accomplished and supporting each other.


I wish telemedicine was an option for us. I hate having to haul all 3 kids to town to see the doctor for something as simple as the sinus infections we seem to get over and over again. But again, with the satellite Internet, skype and services like that just don't work.


Part of what needs to happen also is for employers to accept telecommuting as a legitimate set-up for their employees. My husband could easily do his job from home, but instead he has to drive 100 miles every day. With gas prices what they are, that's an expensive arrangement. 


Lots to think about!

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Re: Young people leaving home

Lisa, if you ever have time, lay hands on a copy of AlvinToffler's book, Future Shock.  To my recollection, I read it in high school, and I think it's original copyright date is c. 1970.  It really formed a lot of my attitudes and opinions abotu the world at a very crucial poiint in my own life, and it came a turning point in history for our nation...right during the Watergate and Nixon's resignation. 

Toffler coined the phrase "the electronic cottage," which essentially described the work environment you enjoiy, and wish Jayson could benefit from, too.  It introduced the concept of telecommuting and being more productive by not have to waste time and energy making a physical commute.  We have gotten part of the way there, but have a long way to go. 

I have a friend who does quite a bit of this type of work when he can, and it is great if you can get it.   I think it ties in with homeschooling, if the family can organize it all in the space of the household.  As you have seen, a family that is going to prosper in school has to dedicate a lot of time and energy to learning at home anyway.  That is true pretty much everywhere. 

Satellite ISP is abysmal at uploading, not too bad on the download, I think.  When you can commit to a 40-minute round trip to circumvent it, that says a lot.  Telemedicine is not all it's cracked up to be.  It allows a long-distance consult, but someone still has to be nearby for emergency care.  Who can stitch up a cut or set a bone via Skype? 

What I keep in mind is that your records are so much more open to hacking in an electronic medical records system.  I have seen confidentiality violations firsthand.  Even the threat of jail time does not prevent this from happening. 

I look at the choice to live out here like most any other...if the pros outweigh the cons, then we stay; and if/when not, we go.  I've always said that when we can get cable, there are too many people nearby for our liking, so we'd have to move. 

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Senior Contributor

Re: Young people leaving home

"When young people return, treat them as adults. Give them a voice so they can make a difference and employ the talents and skills they aren't able to use at work."

This is true and I see it first hand. Certain people or groups of people run the town the way they want it run. Outsiders (or those that are not associated with these groups) are shunned from making a difference in the town because the "elders don't like change." It doesn't take much and the unaligned youth lose interest in the town's politics. There is still politics in larger cities, but the groups are much more fluid. So a young adult can feel like they have a voice, all be it a small one amongst many.

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Re: Young people leaving home

As the kids say...IDK.  I do not think you can really "give" someone else a voice.  I think they have to form their own, and then find the gumption to speak up. 

At the risk of saying the wrong thing here, I will also add:  Kids need to break away from their parents.  It is part of becoming an independent adult. 

Some need to make a larger separation distance than others.  I do not know why this is...but, we see it in our own three and in the kids they grew up with, here and back home.   

Look back to your own generation.  Most of our high school class left after graduation, then a few returned after a very long time.  Some will never come back. That area had plenty of good jobs and nice county schools.   Not any really pressing reason to leave. 

I think it was a sort of seeking that some have more of an urge for than others do.  Some of us can be happy in a small circle, and others need to range far and wide.  If we had not moved 16 years ago, I think I might have gone stir-crazy in that place by now...come to think of it, it was starting to get to me the last few years we were there. 

It is like a pair of too-tight shoes that causes blisters if you start making tracks.   They don't really hurt much, as long as you are satisfied with just standing still. 

Sometimes, too, you have to move to become yourself...not your parents' kid anymore, or your kids' parent, just you. 

College is often our first taste of that self-realization.  We get to define our own habits, hobbies, and set up our own household.  We get to try our talent at being the Maker of the Rules.  It is a heady time, and it is hard to go back. 

I said something to Lisa about not taking home boxes of your mom's stuff when you are helping her de-clutter her house.  There are countless examples of the social and emotional equivalent everywhere you turn "back home." 

It can really clutter up your life.  Where everyone knows you and your family from forever, they pile that stuff onto your reputation and any association they have with you. 

When you have to find out your own family's history from yuor high school sweetheart, because your parents kept things from you "for your own good," you wonder what else no one has told you.  Wondering is worse than any knowing could ever are not responsible for that ancient horse thief, but you are related to him. 

I will tell you, too, that some of us tend ot romanticize rural life.  in truth, it can be harsh and sometimes stifling.  I'd be worried about the kid who wanted to return to some of the stuff we've been through...and we've never had hard financial times, to be truthful.  I do not know many farmers where we live who could make that claim. 

Write a brief description of your job and the salary and benefits of it.  Is that what you've always wanted for your babies when they grew up?  Is it even what you and your spouse really wanted for yourselves when you set out on this dream journey a long time ago? 

Yes, pretty sunsets over the back forty are nice, but they do not pay the bills.  Fresh air is fine, but it isn't really free...we all pay a high price for it.  I agree, the best things in life may not cost much, but you can only truly enjoy them if your roof is not leaking and your belly is full.  I have studied "possum living," and it is not for me. 

I think of this whole subject in terms of that "if you love it, set it free" saying.  If kids truly adored the life they led coming up in the country, they will mostly find a way to come back there, somehow, someday.   

Maybe the real reasons they go and stay gone are way more complex than what type of Internet they can connect to, or that small town politics always get personal.  Frankly, I think they go for one set of reasons, mostly developmental, and stay gone for another, mostly much more involved than that. 


Any takers?

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Frequent Contributor

It has happened for decades

I had to leave my hometown in the 60's and I wanted to.  There was nothing there for me.  We were tenant farmers and there was no support or encouragement to stay on the farm.  I only ventured 30 miles away though and have lived in this region all my life.


The best and brightest usually move on, not speaking of myself.  Work or college away from home helps them meet their spouses and establish themselves in a new place.  College really opened doors for me and work did for others.  Now most of that work is gone in this area, some got their pension, some almost did before their job eas eliminated.  It's a constant problem.


Ohio and Michigan hasn't been able to do much to keep their children in their community.  Most of them move within the state or out of the state.  This has been true for at least 5 decades.


As an ag teacher, I was able to help 40 students earn their state FFA degree and stay in the community.  Most of the farmers in my home school was associated with our program in one way or another.  This is another great reason to celebrate National FFA Week this week.  The few that earned the American Degree have been very successful in their home community so I think that has been a valuable program in our region.


Ohio is going through tough times right now from poor decisions in the past but there are some shining stars to look at.


We need to study and focus on these stars and mimic their success.

turkey feather
Senior Contributor

Re: It has happened for decades

I think each generation has it's reasons for leaving their home area. Usually, it is economic. I recently heard of the loss of people in IL. We were just driving through southern IL last week and saw the evidence of this out pouring of people. Small towns are very quickly drying up, stores closed and houses empty. We saw a big difference since the last time we were in these areas which was just last year.

Our neighboring county newspaper has been featuring young professional people who have returned to the community to work and raise their families. It is a medium size community but has the lowest unemployment in the state and community leaders who have made a difference. With a new interstate coming to the area, the future looks bright. Again it's ecomonics. When we graduated from HS almost all the class left for jobs in other areas.

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Re: It has happened for decades

Ed, your points are well-taken.  If you take the long view, you can probably look back at least five generations - but probably much further than that - and find literature that descries the exodus of youth from a given region or occupational group. 

Your own profession of teaching suffers from tidal pulls in both directions.  Salaries only rise well in relation to the private sector when there is a shortage in the front of our classrooms.  Then, there are times when an oversupply shakes the security of teachers to their roots.  Most of how you manage to stay in that line of work has to do with the community's perceived need, and not many think they need ag teachers today. 

Pensions are a hot topic, given what's going on in Alabama right now.  I wonder how economists will write the obit of this era.  I have a feeling that the companies and agencies that jettisoned older employees on the cusp of their retirement benefits kicking in are going to be seen as sacrificing the few (older employees) for the benefit of the many ( stockholders or taxpayers.)

A lot of this movement away from home has to do with how cheap and easy travel has been up until lately, too.  (This is in a state of rapid change right now, I think.) When you and I were kids, only rich people flew in airplanes, which is the only truly fast way to bridge most long-distance gaps.  You can hop a jet to replace a 7-hour train ride in only one by air, and it costs no more than the gas to carry your car the same distance, so kids feel that they are a lot closer to home than they really are. 

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Re: It has happened for decades

Other than some rather exceptional, shining examples, most small towns will be shoing the wear nad tear of this economy in a more pronounced manner than will big box stores, which can spread a few bad locations out over their entire empires.  The average small business tends to be sited in one spot, or within a small radius, so feels localized bad times more accutely.  (Even at that , two of the Home Depots in our reasonable driving distacne are closing at present, so the pain is starting to spread up the food chain, too.)

The cities here that are seeming more recession-proof revolve around huge regional universities and hospitals, and what draws workforce now tends to be more of things in the medical sector than in manufacturing.  This will support a lot of related business, plus retail for that moneyed crowd. 

Even that pattern really cannot hold up indefinitely.  Jobs in healthcare are not half as hot now as they were two years ago.  I saw way more empty commercial space in Greenville (around the Pitt Memorial Medical facility and East Carolina University med school)  this month than a year ago, too.

I lot of college instructors are adjuncts instead of employees now, too.  Independent contractors, rather thatn people who cost the system for benefits, and who must pay theri own employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Students and their families are paying record prices for what amounts to a glorified set of substitute teachers.  . 

It's getting ugly all over.  Kids may have to stick closer to home just to have a roof over their heads. 

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