Youth of Rural America, Unite!

06.06.14 Post by Erik Hatlestad

Main Street Sign

This past week I attended the Symposium for Small Towns hosted by the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota Morris.  I took this remarkable opportunity to soak up the meaningful research presented regarding the state of affairs in rural America.  One of the key points of discussion throughout the event was the topic of rural migration.  Coming from a rural background myself, I have been witness to this transitional period in Western Minnesota which has been mirrored across the country.

As has been true for decades, many young people are migrating out of the small towns in which they grew up in favor of urban areas.  As a result, rural communities are hungry for youth leaders and entrepreneurs to invigorate their social, economic, and political climate.  Research conducted by Craig Schroeder of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship suggests that “many young people would elect to stay or return to their communities, especially if there are viable career opportunities available.”  Compounding the effect of the lack of jobs in small towns is the perceived boredom of living outside of metro areas.  Many of the youth surveyed in Schroeder’s research indicated that the “‘nothing to do’ syndrom of rural life – was an impetus for leaving town,” a sentiment I have heard echoed by friends from both urban and rural areas.

Too often youth are left out of the decision making process in decisions that directly apply to them.  64% of youth respondents to Scheoeder’s survey indicated that no community leader had ever asked for their views on how to make a more attractive community for young people. The lack of jobs and the perception of boredom are assuredly a tough proverbial nut to crack, but as communities seek to reduce youth migration an important concept for community leaders to keep in mind is that working with youth rather than for them will not only engage young people but their work will create a more appealing community for them.  I think I can speak for all MPIRGers, be they rural or urban, when I say that I look forward to working with communities across the state so we can all be better together.

If Schroeder’s research interests you his paper can be found here.

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