Is the American Dream still alive in rural America?
On July 20, Gil Gullickson published “Hometown USA: Is the American Dream Still Alive in Rural America?’ in the online publication Successful Farming. While this article was written about a small town in rural South Dakota, it just as easily could have been about small rural towns in Maine, upstate New York, or Pennsylvania.
When small town rural high school students are asked if they want to stay in their home town after graduation, often 80 percent say that they do. Often these young people have ideas for projects to help make improvements to their towns. Whether they stay or return after college or the service depends on the availability of well-paying jobs.
Frequently it is the adults that encourage young people to leave town and not return. Those adults see a lack of jobs. They see the seamy side of the local landscape with methamphetamines and opioids abundant. They see depression among young people who remain.
The article highlights the more optimistic side of small town America, where despair is not a given. Farming is still a key to rural economic stability, but the school system, according to the author, is the anchor. Schools not only provide the essential education but compensate for the lack of nuclear families. They encourage programs that help kids progress and see a vision for the future, such as music camps and 4-H programs. Extracurricular activities keep kids involved, off drugs, and out of trouble.
If the younger generations can stay in small rural towns, population levels will stabilize and incomes improve.