One of the big question marks in our floundering economy right now hovers over the idea of human migration trends. Where are people moving to, and why. The key demographic in most conversations about migration trends in the U.S. seem to be young couples and singles between the ages of 25 and 40. Where are these young people moving? And maybe more importantly, what do they want?
The answer, of course, is nobody knows. But I have to write about something, so… let’s say… meaningful and fulfilling lives. But first, where are they moving? States like Texas have had a positive population gain over the last couple of years mostly due to strong energy sector jobs. But let’s face it. As an former resident of Texas, I realize not everyone wants to move to the armpit of hell, Houston.
Many are decrying the fact that young people are fleeing the country like scripted drama from prime time television. But just like prime time TV, there are pockets of CSI, er, young people still finding home in the country. Others, like a recent Wall Street Journal article, talk about the opposite trend.
The Journal’s story is entitled, “Green Acres is the place to be,” and it represents the perspective that people are migrating back to the country. “Motivations can vary, but typically there are three groups: young people buying land as an asset or investment, with vague hopes to live on it someday; exurban commuters who have jobs in big towns or cities but want to escape the sprawl; and back-to-the-land types who want to dabble in hobby farming.”
Honestly, if i were a God-fearing country boy, I would have to admit that the Wall Street Journal doesn’t make these folk sound very appealing. Land speculators, commuters and hobby-farmers sound like the sort of people I would harass with bottle rockets or small arms fire, or perhaps some mailbox baseball. All said, it seems obvious that young people are leaving Rural America. This is not exactly a new trend. The recent book, Hollowing Out the Middle, addressed this issue in candid detail. A splendid blog, Reimagine Rural, also dedicates much time and energy to the topic.
While most movement is out of the country and toward the city, there is a significant movement in the opposite direction. While many of those individuals moving back to the country may not be representing country folks’ interests, I believe that some are. Because of the longevity of the trend to flee the country many God-fearing country boys and girls are waking up every morning to the sounds of honking, train whistles and sirens. With the help of a dream-crushing economy, many of these country-gone-city folk are also waking back up to their childhood memories of a simpler life. By simpler I mean more straight forward: no gym fees, no commuter traffic, no HOA fees.
I see these folk as not so much pretenders or redneck wanna’bes, but rather prodigals returning home. After spending so much of their formative years desiring nothing more than escape from a provincial life, now they wonder if the city was a harpy, a siren luring them to destruction. After all, if you are going to be unemployed, why not be unemployed back home surrounded by family and homegrown food and cheap property prices. But seriously, some of these people are returning to the country with actual skills and a passion to make Rural America great again.
The question still remains on where they will end up. Certainly things like broadband and coffee shops will play a part. More importantly, where will they find open arms and a welcome embrace? Which small towns will decide that the Prodigal deserves a fatted calf after all?