A new report out of Washington, D.C., carries a mix of good and bad news for our part of the country:
Good, because the challenges of rural America are being documented and noticed.
Bad, because we could be the poster child for the message that is being lifted up as a national concern.
The report, “Rural America at a Glance,” is prepared each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year it notes rural areas are losing population at an unprecedented rate. This finding is influenced by rural losses being noticed more in the eastern United States, in addition to the agrarian Midwest where this has been a long-term concern.
An accounting of population trends and projections brings this issue home to Northwest Missouri. Numbers from the Missouri Office of Administration, Planning and Budget show of 16 regional counties, nine are on track for population losses from 2000 to 2030.
Winners in this analysis are Platte County, projected to grow more than 55 percent over the 30 years; Clinton, more than 40 percent; Andrew and Caldwell, nearly 20 percent; Harrison and Buchanan, between 8 and 9 percent; and Nodaway, 5 percent.
(It’s worth noting here that finishing in positive territory hardly is a reason to throw a celebration in St. Joseph, Maryville or Bethany. The nation’s population grew by 9.7 percent in just the first 10 years of this century.)
The problem of population losses is pronounced elsewhere in the region.
Gentry County is projected to see a decline of more than 30 percent over the 30-year period; Worth and Holt, more than 20 percent; Atchison and Mercer, more than 15 percent; Grundy, more than 5 percent; and DeKalb, Livingston and Daviess, from 1 to 5 percent.
Looking for a glimmer of hope? In some counties, the projected losses already largely have occurred. DeKalb and Livingston counties are projected to see growth from 2015 to 2030, and Daviess may join the club.
We recognize the contributing factors analysts link to rural population losses: a slowing in the growth of the suburbs on the edges of metro areas; outmigration of young adults; declining birth rates of those who remain; deaths of older, long-term residents; and rising death rates among working-age adults in rural areas.
Together, these trends pose arguably the greatest threat to our region’s long-term future.
An effective response requires civic leaders and state and local officials to remain focused on the critical issues of health, education and workforce training; funding roads and communications infrastructure necessary to commerce; encouraging entrepreneurship; and aggressively recruiting good jobs to the region.
This work is best done in partnership. Among efforts deserving of support are Great Northwest Day at the Capitol, the Heartland Foundation’s Healthy Communities initiative, the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri and its Regional Vitality Network, and the Communities of Excellence 2026 organization recently at work in Maryville.