Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

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by Patrick J. Carr, Maria J. Kefalas
     
 

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In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. They met and followed working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to…  See more details below

Overview

In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. They met and followed working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised them most was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave.

In a timely, new afterword, Carr and Kefalas address the question “so what can be done to save our communities?” They profile the efforts of dedicated community leaders actively resisting the hollowing out of Middle America. These individuals have creatively engaged small town youth—stayers and returners, seekers and achievers—and have implemented a variety of programs to combat the rural brain drain.  These stories of civic engagement will certainly inspire and encourage readers struggling to defend their communities.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Thousands of small towns in rural America are being depopulated, or "hollowed out." The brightest and most ambitious young people, dubbed "Achievers" by husband and wife researchers Carr and Kefalas, abandon the heartland for greater challenges and rewards in cities. Their less talented and/or less ambitious brothers and sisters, the "Stayers," remain in places like smalltown Ohio, where the ethnographers surveyed 275 graduates of a local high school. Deft and detailed case studies bring the population to life, making the poor prognosis heartrending. While the authors insist that "with a plan and a vision" smalltown America can be revitalized, evidence to the contrary seems overwhelming. Globalization, the growth of agribusiness and the Achievers' hunger for "cultural vibrancy" suggest that the brain drain will not be replaced with a "brain gain"-despite the addition of scattered "Returners" and immigrants. Some analysts suggest that remaining human populations be relocated from the Great Plains and the land be restored to a vast Buffalo Commons, a "venue for bison and prairie restoration"; others foresee the region becoming a bastion for sustainable agriculture and green energy. Whatever the future may hold, the authors alert readers to this major change with clarity and compassion. (Oct.)

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Library Journal
Carr (sociology, Rutgers Univ.) and Kefalas (sociology, St. Joseph's Univ.) offer a compelling and well-documented discussion of the regrettable youth exodus from our nation's Heartland (their capitalization). Under the auspices of the MacArthur Foundation, the authors, husband and wife as well as research partners, had lived with their young children for a half-dozen years in "Ellis," the pseudonymous Iowa town that is their book's focus. Through case studies, they identify what draws achievers away from the Heartland's small towns, draining them of vision, and they suggest how those who flee might be convinced to stay. Yet while they argue that the area can be revitalized, they, too, were happy to reassure nine-year-old Camille that "Mommy and Daddy are, at last done" with their book, meaning that they can leave Iowa. Apparently, their distress at the Midwest "brain drain" was not enough to compel them to remain there themselves. VERDICT Deftly researched and written, this book is highly recommended for sociologists, educators, policymakers, and anyone concerned about the future of this country.—Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ\
Kirkus Reviews
Two sociologists' plan for damming the flow of talented young people from rural America. The American heartland is committing suicide, with profound implications for the whole country, write husband-and-wife team Carr (Sociology/Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick) and Kefalas (Sociology/Saint Joseph's Univ.). For decades, parents and teachers in small towns such as Ellis-the pseudonymous Iowa community in which the authors lived and conducted research for more than a year-have funneled their brightest young people to college and to careers in big cities. Meanwhile, neglect befalls their less-gifted peers, who are condemned to blue-collar jobs with stagnant wages, or to poverty. The authors acknowledge that this problem is not new. But in a postindustrial economy that prizes education, the process will eventually turn rural communities into impoverished ghost towns. Carr and Kefalas categorize Ellis's young people according to their defining traits: Achievers, Stayers, Seekers, Returners. The authors' classification system makes sense, but their justification for making rural rejuvenation a national priority is thin at points. After mentioning the potential role of the rural Midwest in sustainable agriculture and energy, the authors drop the potentially intriguing thread. More convincing is their depiction of the dead-end lives of individual Stayers. Carr and Kefalas concede that it would be wrong to abort promising students' futures outside their hometowns, but they prescribe more investment in the Stayers, from community-college-based retraining programs to expanded Internet access in rural areas. The latter, the authors suggest, could also attract high-talent immigrants and even coax a fewAchievers into staying. Somewhat wonky, but an impassioned, mostly persuasive manifesto from two advocates for small-town America. Agent: Lisa Adams/The Garamond Agency
From the Publisher
“Written in an easily accessible style for the lay reader, this volume is filled with their observations of life in a rural community that is just “hanging on,” and stories from the young adults they met.”—Journal of Rural Social Sciences 

“An intriguing new book . . . [They] argue that it will take more than just free land initiatives to reverse rural America’s brain drain.”—Christina Gillham, Newsweek
 
“A fascinating study that brilliantly describes and analyzes the problems of rural towns in America that are emptying out.”—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University
 
“The authors present a brave and daunting examination of why the most talented, the most productive young people leave our small towns. . . . This book is so generative, so fiercely compelling . . . I urge you to read it.”—Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

“The undoing of Middle America is the great secret tragedy of our times. For shining a bright, unwavering light on the unfolding disaster, Carr and Kefalas deserve enormous credit.” —Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?

“Deft and detailed case studies bring the population to life. . . . The authors alert readers to this major change with clarity and compassion.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
 
“A worthy contribution to a conversation we desperately need to have.”—Bill Kauffman, Wall Street Journal
 
“Deftly researched and written, this book is highly recommended for sociologists, educators, policymakers, and anyone concerned about the future of this country.”—Library Journal, starred review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807042397
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Publication date:
10/01/2009
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
392 KB

Meet the Author

Patrick J. Carr is associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the author of Clean Streets. Maria J. Kefalas is a professor of sociology at Saint Joseph’s University, the author of Working-Class Heroes, and coauthor of Promises I Can Keep. The authors live outside Philadelphia. 


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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