Hollowing Out the Middle

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Why Young People are the Heartland’s Most Precious Declining Resource and How it Matters for AmericaPatrick Carr Rutgers UniversityMaria KefalasSaint Joseph’s UniversityPhotographs by Steven Schapiro

Transcript of Hollowing Out the Middle

  • 1.
    • Why Young People are the Heartlands Most Precious Declining Resource and How it Matters for America
  • Patrick Carr
  • Rutgers University
  • Maria Kefalas
  • Saint Josephs University
  • Photographs by Steven Schapiro


  • If there is an idealized type of the agrarian small-town image in America it surely belongs to the Corn Belt and Great Plains- the land of the Homestead Act, frugal, hardworking farmers, LewisMain Street , WilsonsMusic Man , and Grant Woods American Gothic.A land of struggle-not always rewarded- and even occasional strife, but without the degrading legacy of slavery, sharecropping, grinding poverty, and soil depletion that has overlaid the rural South.
  • - Calvin Beale , A Taste of the Country: A Collection of Calvin Beales Writings,65 .


  • Striking parallels to structural explanations William Julius Wilson offers for theurban crisis : global market shifts, deindustrialization, job deskilling and automation, depopulation,concentrated poverty, and the flight of the middle class.
  • Rural downturns consequences: falling wages, dying communities,growing underground economy fueled by methamphetamine and oxycontin, unemployment and underemployment,family breakdown, joblessness, and failed regional economies.
  • The flip-side of Richard Floridas creative cities
  • In 700 non-metro counties there are more deaths than births and since 1980, huge segments of the Heartland, particularly from the Great Plains to the Texas Pandhandle, have lost more than 10 percent of their population. Urban renaissances in Chicago and the Twin Cities were fueled by the infusions of educated young people from the prairie and the Corn Belt .


  • A century has passed since the Lynds classic Middletown studies and it has been half-century since HollingheadsElmtowns Youth.
  • Red (Real ) versus Blue (Bittergate) America cultural divide
  • 1 in 5(60 million) Americans reside in nonmetropolitan areas and a rural crisiscalls for meaningful policy interventions.
  • This region plays a key role in the national political process and volunteers from rural regions are overrepresented among the troops fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The Heartland will be expected to support initiatives for sustainable food production and alternative energy.But without stable communities and a strong labor pool especially in the knowledge sector - the region will not be able to play this role.
  • Immigrationis transforming the region at a breathtaking pace.

5. 6.

  • TheMacArthur Foundations Network on the Transition to Adulthood and Public Policyfunded the Heartland Study, an 18-month project examining the lives of young people who attended high school during the 1980s and 1990s.
  • We lived in a northeastern Iowa community, renamed Ellis, population 2000 approx., and spent 18 month crisscrossing the nation to speak to current and former Iowans residing in 15 states.
  • Previous rural-urban migration research has focused on the migrants in their new settings, this work builds in a comparison of migrants and non-migrants, and we take care to note the reasons for leaving: personal development (internal), educational goals (push), and job-related (pull) and evaluate these effects over time with the cohorts.


  • Mature transitions: Those who entered high school to graduate in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Age 28-30 in 2002.
  • Early transitions: Those who entered high school to graduate in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Age 23-25 in 2002.
  • The Heartland Study has survey data on 275 former Ellis High students (81.12% response rate) and in-depthqualitative interviews with 104 young adults.


  • No state, except for West Virginia, loses more BA-holders after they have completed degrees.
  • In half of the states counties, there are more births than deaths.
  • Iowa ranks 48 thfor population growth since 1950 and is the sixth whitest state in the Union.


  • There arecollege-bound Achievers ,Seekers who use the militaryas a way out , working-class Stayerscaught in the regions dying farm and factory economy andReturners ( professional High-Flyers andpink-collared Boomerangs )who come home when new lives someplaceelsedont take hold.
  • .

10. . 43.1 percentof respondents from in-depth interviews live in Ellis and Liberty County 30 percent living elsewhere in the state 26.9 percent having moved out of state 18 percent had no form of post-secondary education. Education Family Formation Work SocialBackground Leavers Seekers military, high school + mixture delayed entryassorted jobsvarious Achievers college + delayed professional, delayed children of elite, but some from less advantaged background Returners Boomerangs high school + traditional blue/pink collar, early entry similar background of stayers/ lower-statusHigh Flyers college + mixture/ traditional professional children of elite Stayers Stayers high school or less traditional early entry, low-wage/ blue collar mostly male, lower-status 11.

  • Back in 1940, just 5 percent of Americans possessed a college education, and these professionals were scattered across small towns and cities fairly evenly.
  • By 1970, five years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Higher Education Act into law, only five percentage points separated the most highly educated regions in the United States from the least highly educated regions.
  • Three decades later, in 2000, the regional educational gap had more thandoubledto 13 percentage points.
  • Domina, Thurston. 2006. Brain Drain and Brain Gain: Rising Educational Segregation in the United States, 19402000,City and Community5: 4 December: 387.

12. 13.

  • We had the pot-heads, we had the preps, they were the ones that did real good in school and wore the real nice clothes and they were all uppity and didnt want anything to do with anybody else.There were the middle people who werent the best students, didnt have the best clothes, but had a good time, and there were the working people, they had a job instead of going out and partying.
  • Jason Geotz, aged 25.


  • Dominate the social world of the school.
  • College-bound: the surest route to middle class status, a college degree, gives young people to structural opportunity to stage their departure.
  • Influential adults offer special treatment for cherry-picked Achievers: Achievers get the message that it is their destiny to move away. Last names mattered but not all the time.


  • I felt like I had a lot of people who were really hoping that I would go on and do good things, and that I had a lot of potential and I think that probably left a deep impression on me that I had been embraced by the community and kind of set forth to go do something with what I had been given .
  • - Ella, graduate student, Achiever,aged 25
  • There were definitely the popular kids [whom] the teachers treated differently.I was fairly popular.The teachers were always, its like elitist, I mean I could always do anything.I didnt, but I got away with stuff that I know I shouldnt have, that the other kids couldnt have .
  • Rose, professional, Achiever, aged 30.


  • I felt so disappointed with the attitude of some teachers who didnt recognize the opportunity to invest in the young people who were going to stay or come back.It was as if all they cared about were the ones on the honor roll. I tried to impact the average kids that werent all conference volleyball or first chair in the band.It wasnt my job to inspire them to love history, it was my job to teach them how to tough things out and survive.

17. Basically, its one of those stories where I nailed every test growing up, and my brother struggled.So it was kind of predetermined, its just whatever we wanted to do, my family kind of understood that my interests would take me away, while I think they understood that my brothers and sisters would stay. - Charles, law student, Achiever, aged 25. My parents never expected [my sisters and me] to work in high school cause we were involved in so many sports, so that maybe kind of steered us a little more towards college as opposed to kids that, you know, find a job and they stay here [in Ellis] and do that. Angela, recent college grad, Achiever, aged 23. 18.

  • Out of an average graduating class of 40 students, Ellis High school records show that 5 to 10 percent of every class enlists in the armed forces annually.
  • Recruiters are rare sights at high schools where most students head off to college.
  • However, in the schools of the Heartlands farm and factory towns, they are daily visitors.


  • Jason Goetz, stationed in Florida, Seeker, high school
  • graduate, 25
  • IfI stayed in EllisI would have done the same thing as the guys I grew up with and married the girl down the street or one of my classmates from a grade below or above.Every time I come home to visit when I have a leave, I see my classmates doing the same jobs they were doing in high school, living in the same placethey havent done anything.Ive been halfway around the world a