What it takes to save rural America



March 18, 2019 - 10:09 AM

Small towns: where everybody knows everybody. The place where your kids walk to school, you invite your neighbors over for dinner, and you share a laugh with your friends watching your kids play t-ball. From afar, some romanticize small-town America as the heartland, the sacred backbone of our nation. Others crassly call our neck of the woods fly-over country. Upon closer examination, however, one finds rural America much more complicated than the stereotypes.

Many of us know rural America is getting older, not younger. The median age of  people in rural areas is 43, seven years older than city folk. And with rural areas commonly higher in poverty and losing population, counties like ours are going to need a new generation to step up to the plate. But there’s a problem: Many millennials and their Generation Z counterparts — my peers — don’t want to live in their hometowns.

Some adults may think that the “bright lights, big city” draw kids away from their hometowns, assuming that towns like Iola are doomed for never having the wealth and industry the suburbs and cities have. I don’t agree. Many of my friends and I value many aspects of small-town life. What we can’t stand, however, is to see things decline. If we want Iola and other towns in our county to have a future, we’ve got to fight for it.

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