W3001: The Great Recession, Its Aftermath, and Patterns of Rural and Small Town Demographic Change

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

W3001: The Great Recession, Its Aftermath, and Patterns of Rural and Small Town Demographic Change

Duration: 10/01/2012 to 09/30/2017

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The Great Recession brought the collapse of the stock market, high foreclosure rates, falling housing prices, and rising unemployment. Scholarly research investigating the specific impacts of the recession on rural communities is just emerging. Reports from various agencies give some insight into these issues and provide some direction for future research (Berendt and James, 2009; Kusmin, 2011; McBride and Kemper, 2009). We propose to provide a comprehensive picture of recent demographic processes in U.S. rural areas, at several levels of geography, in the years before, during, and after the Great Recession. Specific research questions will be determined, in part, by focus-group discussions with stakeholders proposed as a Year One activity. However, two closely-linked objectives have already been identified as critical to understanding national and regional patterns of rural population change during this time period: 1) better understanding the linkages between job loss and demographic change in rural contexts; and 2) examining dynamics in rural housing markets in light of shifting rural population composition and new economic realities.

Need as indicated by stakeholders

This committee is dedicated to addressing rural population issues that matter to policy makers, communities, and local residents. The objectives identified for this proposal come, in part, from information gathered from stakeholders during meetings, workshops, briefings, and field studies held during the past five years. Given the dramatic shifts in rural population patterns and trends associated with the Great Recession, such as the unexpected downturns in migration and fertility rates (Sutton et al 2011), we anticipate the emergence of new concerns on the part of stakeholders throughout the country. For this reason, we propose to take a community-engaged approach to finalizing our specific research questions and to integrate extension educators, policy makers, and community groups into our broader research team.

The Carnegie Foundation defines community engagement as the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. Following this paradigm, we propose to spend the first year of this project working with multiple stakeholders, sharing our research objectives and identifying specific questions within that agenda. We will work through regional centers, policy makers, and placed-based organizations to build knowledge that increases community capacity to respond to challenges they face (Stoecker 2005, Bridger and Alter 2006, Weerts and Sandmann 2008).

The committee proposes two specific processes. First, the current committee (W2001) is hosting a policy conference around the topic of rural aging in September 2012 in Washington, DC. At this event, we will ask participants to respond to a brief survey asking what specific demographic issues pose the most important opportunities and challenges for rural communities in the context of the recession and its aftermath. In addition, we will hold a session where we engage participants in discussions aimed at understanding (from the community stakeholder point of view) important demographic issues facing rural communities. Survey and discussion results will be summarized and distributed to committee members following this event. They will be discussed electronically and specifically addressed at the annual committee meeting in 2013.

Second, in order to address more regional and place-based concerns, we propose to work with Regional Rural Development Centers to set up focus-group discussions of issues linking rural development, demographic change, and the Great Recession. Committee members who attend these discussions during Year One will share summaries of their findings with other committee members electronically. Again, the committee's annual meeting in 2013 will be devoted to discussing these findings in an effort to finalize research questions.

Importance of the work, and what the consequences are if it is not done

Demographic change in rural America is an obvious but understudied response to the economic dislocations ushered in by the Great Recession. Our research will document the realignment of population growth and decline during the periods before, during, and after the Great Recession in the vast expanse of rural America that includes 75 percent of the nation's land area and 51 million of its residents. In so doing, we will contribute to the development of more informed policy to address the needs of rural people, places and institutions, especially as they have been affected by the recession.

Rural residents populate every region of the country, from counties bordering suburbs to remote and isolated areas. Rural areas encompass agricultural regions as well as areas where workers depend mostly on manufacturing or tourism. They include prosperous areas with rapidly growing populations as well as chronically depressed locales experiencing population decline. Accordingly, our research plan is national in scope but employs a comparative perspective, and relies on a multidisciplinary research team located throughout the U.S. to ensure familiarity with diverse rural demographic, social, and economic settings.

Local, regional, state and federal government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) depend on up-to-date interpretations of population trends. Information from the proposed research will allow for faster understanding and anticipation of present and future public needs. This extends to informing decisions and judgments of direct service providers, including educational administrators, cooperative extension personnel, law enforcement personnel, medical and welfare workers, journalists, clergy, and others influential in community affairs. For example, a school administrator will benefit from understanding the degree to which lower immigration rates mean fewer school-age children. Members of business and public utility sectors can use knowledge of demographic shifts to conduct needs assessments for their organizations and enterprises.

New demographic trends sometimes require shifts in policy recommendations for stakeholders. For instance, decreases in in-migration in response to economic recessions will lower demand for schools, hospitals, or family-oriented social services, depending on the changing composition of migration flows. Insights from the research proposed here will contribute to better understanding and anticipation of present and future public needs as they are influenced by changes in population size, geographic location, and socioeconomic composition. Failure to address these issues could diminish the response capabilities of local government officials, regional economic development officers, extension personnel, and other stakeholders. It could hinder public policy efforts at the Federal and State level as well, due to the decrease in systematic knowledge of just how rural people and communities are evolving as a result of demographic change. Without knowledge of regional differences, for instance in how differential migration rates affect housing prices, policy formation may be critically misdirected.

Technical feasibility of the research

Recent W-2001 accomplishments (two book publications, policy briefs, numerous journal articles, presentations, successful grant proposals, and the planned policy conference in Washington DC) demonstrate our ability to collaborate effectively. The group does not envision any new technical issues that would hinder the accomplishment of the proposed research objectives. Over the past five years, we have taken advantage of new communication technologies to expand our disciplinary range and more effectively interact with public and private stakeholders across the country.

Most members have extensive experience compiling and analyzing large databases, bringing together demographic and economic data from several sources and geographic scales of inquiry. Many have skills in spatial analysis of demographic data and using geographic information systems (GIS) to map and analyze population patterns. We plan to incorporate new data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, available with full county-level, nonmetro coverage for the first time in 2011. Additionally, several members will be taking advantage of qualitative skills to conduct field studies or more informally interview rural community leaders and residents.

Advantages of the multi-state approach

The multi-state framework provides a unique venue for interdisciplinary research that is both national in scope and committed to understanding the regional and local context of demographic change during the Great Recession. A national perspective is essential for analyzing rural population issues from a policy perspective because demographic change occurs within the framework of the nation's entire settlement system. Moreover, the national perspective permits comparative analysis of the nation's diverse regions thereby providing information useful for modifying policies for varying social, economic, and environmental contexts.

Specific areas cannot be studied outside of their larger contexts. Regions are interrelated as are rural, suburban and urban areas. Our committee's expanded membership has widened the geographic scope of our research beyond the traditional focus we have had on the rural West. Our national-level research activities are now informed by in-depth knowledge of regions as diverse as the northern Great Plains, the upper Great Lakes, the Mississippi Delta, and New England.

The multi-state approach allows each researcher to take advantage of the unique and diverse skills of all committee members and their affiliated institutions, including departments and population centers at Cornell, Idaho, Hawaii, Kansas State, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas-San Antonio, Texas A&M, Utah State, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Middlebury College. Geographers with USDA's Economic Research Service and elsewhere provide the research committee with excellent geographic information systems capabilities. Committee members from Cornell, North Dakota State, Utah State, and Wisconsin, among others, have formal Extension responsibilities, and their expertise provides the group with a solid understanding of stakeholder issues and the planning requirements of state, county and regional agencies. Finally, the group enjoys excellent relations with professionals at the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal data centers.

The likely impacts from completion of the work

The demographic analysis undertaken by this committee provides information about the social and economic context within which public policy operates in our changing rural society. For example, the committee's recently completed book, Rural Aging in 21st Century America (Glasgow and Berry, forthcoming), and the proposed policy forum on aging, focuses attention on changing service needs as rural populations age in place and retirement destinations evolve. Mapping and explaining regional differences in population processes during the Great Recession will draw attention to the ways in which demographic impacts play out unevenly and how economic decline and recovery have been experienced differently across various segments of the nonmetro population, hitting historically disadvantaged groups hardest.

The project's primary goal continues to be the production of this type of policy-relevant research that informs users about current demographic trends and their implications for rural policy. We aim for broad readership among policy makers and plan to continue our strong record of outreach, that recently has included briefings to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, several Congressional offices, Governors' staff and task forces, the National Academies of Science, the Federal Reserve Bank, AARP, the International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium, several USDA agencies, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, and many state and local organizations. Our work does not evaluate the operation of particular public policies or practices, but it does provide essential contextual information that helps policymakers decide where public intervention is most needed, and the alternative forms such actions might take.

Related, Current and Previous Work

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2011), the latest recession began in December 2007 and ended eighteen months later in June 2009. Together with the housing mortgage crisis that began a year earlier, the recession had such a substantial negative impact on labor market conditions, wage growth, income dispersion, and GDP that the entire period (2007-09) has been labeled by many as the Great Recession. For America's workers, the economic toll has been greater than any period since WWII (Eberts 2011). Early on in the economic recession, rural economies outperformed urban economies, experiencing proportionately less job loss (Henderson 2009). However, as the recession progressed into 2009, rural job losses escalated. Our research will document demographic shifts in rural areas during this period. Our working hypotheses are: (1) the current slowdown in rural population growth rates results primarily from shifting patterns of domestic migration, both of native-born and foreign-born populations, and greatly reduced rates of immigration; (2) recession-related demographic shifts have been experienced differently across various segments of the nonmetro population, hitting historically disadvantaged groups hardest; and (3) demographic impacts of the Great Recession have played out unevenly over geographic space.

Research related to Objective One: Demographic Change and the Great Recession

Our conceptual approach recognizes that shifting patterns of migration and immigration are driven in large part by changing economic conditions, which in turn drive local and regional population growth and decline processes (Beale 2000; Easterlin 1978, 1980; Lobao et al. 2007). For example, inter-regional and rural-urban patterns of net migration have been shaped historically by the uneven distribution of job growth (Greenwood 1997), unemployment (Foulkes and Schafft 2010; Gebremariam et al. 2011), earnings (Borjas 1987), and poverty (Oropesa and Landale 200). Such migration is particularly important in many parts of rural America, where fertility levels have now diminished to such low levels that natural decrease has become widespread (Johnson, 2011). Economic forces are not the only drivers of migration in rural areas. Recreational and retirement migration to high-amenity counties has been an important factor in recent nonmetro population redistribution trends (Johnson and Cromartie 2006; Partridge 2010). However, a large demographic literature shows that much long-distance or inter-metro migration decision-making processes are rooted in economic restructuring (Lu 1999; McHugh 1990). Indeed, the Great Depression of the 1930s was a time when widespread economic dislocations resulted in migration rates that were significantly lower than those observed during the decades preceding and following the Great Depression (Boustan, et al. 2008; Johnson 1985; Rosenbloom and Sundstrom 2004).

Preliminary evidence suggests that both domestic migration and immigration have shifted in unanticipated ways during the recessionary period of the last three years. Domestic migration (including that to rural areas) is currently at its lowest levels since record-keeping first began (Frey 2009). This downturn has been variously linked to the current housing crisis, stagnant job growth, and shifting family dynamics (e.g., the failure to launch among young adults). The demographic implications of the economic downturn are expected to differ by location. In some localities, such as those that experienced rapid population growth fueled by booming economies in the 1990s and early 2000s (e.g., nonmetro areas just beyond the periphery of Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Florida metro hotspots), the impact of the recession has hit especially hard. In-migration has slowed dramatically. Paradoxically, in rural areas that have seen little recent growth (e.g. farm communities and rural manufacturing counties), historically-high rates of out-migration have slowed. Residents are frozen in place by houses they cannot sell and by a national job market that provides few incentives to go elsewhere. A fluid labor force is arguably imperative for economic recovery, especially as local labor markets adapt to changing economic conditions. Indeed, reduced geographic mobility may suggest structural problems in the labor force that could slow economic recovery (Elsby et al. 2010; Ferreira et al. 2010).

Immigration, which is increasingly important to rural areas, also has recently slowed after more than a decade of unprecedented increases (e.g., nearly 1 million legal immigrants per year) (Martin and Midgley 2010). Between 2000 and 2009, the foreign-born population in the United States nevertheless increased from 31.1 to 38.5 million, nearly a 25 percent increase over the decade (Pew Hispanic Center 2011). The influx of new immigrants into the United States and their geographic dispersion nationally also has been shaped by periodic expansions and contractions in the economy and the uneven spatial distribution of job growth across different industrial and occupational sectors (e.g., low-wage employment).

The current diaspora of the Hispanic population from established gateways (in the Southwest and elsewhere) to new destinations in nonmetro America has fueled considerable recent rural growth (Massey 2008; Lichter and Johnson 2009). The implications for current patterns of migration among immigrants are uncertain (Kritz et al. 2011). How the newly-arrived foreign-born population has responded to job losses in many new immigrant destinations is unclear. Have they remained unemployed "in place," or instead returned to their native countries or moved elsewhere in the United States? Boom communities are now losing jobs in employment sectors, such as construction, that first attracted new immigrant workers. Local economic declines have presumably affected on-ward migration patterns among Americas recent immigrants, but in unclear ways.

Fertility declines are also related to declining immigration and, ultimately, slower population growth. Recently-released data from the National Center on Health Statistics (NCHS) reflect an unexpected fertility decline during the recessionary period. The number of U.S. births dropped by 4 percent from an all-time high of 4,316,000 in 2007 to 4,131,000 in 2009 (Sutton et al. 2011). Fertility rates also fell during this period; this means that the drop in births was not due solely to declines in the number of women of reproductive age. These fertility declines during the Great Recession were larger than any other 2-year period over the last 30 years. Fertility declines also were substantially higher among Hispanics and young adults, a fact suggesting greater vulnerability to recessionary impacts. This is further underscored by the significant declines in marriage (where most U.S. births occur) along with increasing cohabitation among Americas young adult populations between 2007 and 2009. According to recently released data from NCHS, only four states and the District of Columbia experienced increases in marriage rates between 2007 and 2009 (National Center for Health Statistics 2011). If history is our guide, recent family formation patterns are linked to economic upheavals, which are reflected in uneven growth rates over geographic space. In rural areas where fertility has been diminishing for decades (Johnson 2011), the recent sharp decline in births associated with the Recession has serious implications for future nonmetro population redistribution trends.

Research related to Objective Two: Demographic Change and Job Loss

One of the most significant effects of the recession has been job loss and, consequently, rising unemployment. Both nonmetro and metro areas face employment issues caused by the recession. However, the specific challenges differ between nonmetro and metro contexts. Long-standing factors pre-dating the recession shape these differences. For example, more limited labor market opportunities and an older population in rural areas shape the way in which the impacts of the recession are felt.

In rural America, unemployment grew from 5.2% in mid-2008 to 9.2% in mid-2009, as job loss was reported across most sectors, especially in construction (-13.3%), transportation and utilities (-11.8%), and manufacturing (-9.8%) (Kusmin 2009). Conditions were somewhat worse in metro areas, where the overall rate of employment was down -3.8% versus -3.0% in non-metro areas. Improvements have been reported in recent years, with nonmetro unemployment falling slowly in 2010 and more rapidly in 2011. However, the improvement is due to a decline in the labor force participation rate in nonmetro areas as the percent of rural adults who were employed has not risen recently (Kusmin 2011). Concurrently, the average time spent looking for work has continued to increase in both metro and nonmetro areas, and the percentage of people who have been out of a job and looking for employment for more than a year is at a record high.

Unemployment among rural residents varies by education level Kusmin 2011). In 2010, unemployment in nonmetro counties was highest for adults without a high school diploma (14%) and lowest among adults with at least a bachelor's degree (4%). Unemployment also varies by gender, age, and race/ethnicity (Kusmin 2009). Nationally, a higher percentage of Hispanics and blacks are unemployed as compared to whites, and Hispanics are overrepresented in occupations with the highest unemployment rates (Berndt and James 2009). Unemployment also differs regionally, due to regional differences in economic dependence. For instance, rising unemployment in the timber industry is closely tied to the contractions in the housing market and has most especially affected parts of the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and California) (Kusmin 2009). In contrast, counties that benefited from an increase in oil and gas drilling reported declines or no change in unemployment rates.

A recent report on Minnesota suggests that rural-urban distinctions in the impacts of the recession are less clear than comparisons across industries (Uphoff 2010). Places dependent on construction, manufacturing and finance have been most hard-hit whereas places reliant upon energy sectors have been less impacted. Differences in the extent to which industries have either contracted or grown are evident across the rural-urban dimension. For example, nonmetro areas have experienced greater job loss in the service sector as compared to metro areas (i.e., arts, entertainment and recreation; and food services). This is likely associated with the connection between tourism and the service industry in non-metro areas, whereas the service sector is not as dependent upon tourism in metro areas. Industries are systematically distributed across regions as well as the rural-urban dimensions; therefore, the extent to which rural areas are heavily and singularly dependent on industries sensitive to the recession likely affects the extent to which particular rural areas are impacted by the recession.

The economic, social, and demographic impacts of job loss are substantial. Unemployment can mean a loss or absence of employer-sponsored health insurance and/or the ability to pay for individual insurance (McBride and Kemper 2009). The RUPRI Center estimates that uninsured rates have increased in rural areas in all states, even when accounting for Medicaid coverage. Consequently, the uninsured problem is more acute in rural areas than before.

High-cost loans disproportionately affected rural Americans. Nonmetro residents were somewhat more likely than metro residents to have secured high-cost loans immediately prior to the recession (Kusmin 2009). Therefore, nonmetro homeowners might be more vulnerable to defaulting on loans given the high rate of unemployment.

Historically, poverty has been higher in rural America and the recent recessions appear to have reinforced this pattern. Research has demonstrated that the impact of cyclical economic forces on poverty is greater in nonmetro areas as compared to metro areas (Gunderson 2006). In nonmetro areas, poverty increased from 14.2% to 15.4% between 2001 and 2007 (Kusmin 2009). By comparison, poverty in metro areas grew from 11.1% to 11.9% during the same period.

The increase in poverty has been greatest for all groups in nonmetro areas relative to their metro counterparts (e.g., all persons, female-headed families, children under 18, adults 65 and older, whites, Hispanics, African Americans) (Kusmin 2011). Nonmetro estimates for 2009 show that 38.1% of female-headed families lived in poverty compared with 28.4% in metro areas, and the pace of growth in poverty among female-headed families was faster among nonmetro families. Nonmetro Hispanics reported one of the largest poverty rate increases, increasing by 2.2 percentage-points between 2008 and 2009 putting the nonmetro Hispanic poverty rate at 27.8% (Kusmin 2011). As in past years, the highest child poverty rates were reported by counties in the Mississippi Delta, counties with Native American reservations, and counties along the US-Mexico border.

Net migration into nonmetro areas slowed after 2006, corresponding with the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the economic recession. Net migration dropped most dramatically among counties with the highest foreclosure rates (Kusmin 2009). The overall share of the population living in nonmetro areas fell from 18% to 16.5% between 2000 and 2010 (Kusmin 2011). Overall migration shifts and the geographic differences in migration rates among different types of nonmetro areas are linked to differences in economic structures and opportunities. For example, a recent report on New Hampshire shows urban cores retained domestic migrants whereas fringe counties lost domestic migrants in recent years (Johnson 2010). The same report shows that nationwide, previous rural gains through migration came to an end in the post-recession period.

Research related to Objective Three: Rural Housing Markets and the Great Recession

The roots of the recession emanate from the housing-market crisis beginning in late 2006, and unemployment consequences (especially in construction) have been manifested vigorously in both metro and nonmetro areas (Marre, Pender, Monchuk 2010). Rural housing markets differ from urban markets on several key dimensions, including homeownership rates, home values, the mix of renter and owner-occupied units, the relative proportion of second homes, concentrations of manufactured homes, and overall age of the housing stocks (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). Furthermore, the heterogeneity of rural housing markets and the rural economies in which they are embedded complicate their study and the ability to generalize (Barcus 2011). Historically, the concentration of manufactured and mobile homes in nonmetro areas and the substandard quality of many rural homes have been key issues in rural housing markets. Today, affordability has replaced poor quality as the primary housing concern for rural populations (Housing Council, 2010). However, substandard housing remains an important issue for minority populations.

The timing of recessions has historically varied across regions, with some areas experiencing the recession earlier or later than defined by national statistics (Henderson 2009, 2010; Wilkerson 2008). In addition, the price of homes in some rural areas outpaced incomes over the decade preceding the housing-market crisis, making some areas at risk for declines in housing prices. The proportion of rural counties with high foreclosure rates (10 percent or more) is, at least, on par with the proportion of urban counties that have experienced high foreclosure rates (Wodka 2009). Resolution of the rural foreclosure crisis and improving the prospects for recovery from the recession in rural areas require a deeper understanding of the linkages among demographic shifts, sustained structural challenges facing rural economies, and the unique structure of rural housing markets.

A variety of economic and demographic forces have reshaped rural areas over the past 30 years, and these transformations have distinct implications for rural housing. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, many rural areas blessed with high levels of natural amenities experienced considerable growth (McGranahan 1999) as footloose households decided to vote with their feet and move to these desirable destinations. This amenity migration set off considerable development in local housing markets (Beyers and Nelson 2000) as the new arrivals flush with equity from the sale of their metro home began investing in local housing stock initiating processes of rural gentrification. The construction trades boomed in many of these communities and housing prices skyrocketed squeezing many longer term residents (Ghose 2004; Robbins et al. 2009; Ward 2011; Winkler et al. 2007). Similarly, rural retirement destinations had robust housing markets and construction sectors (Brown and Glasgow, 2008) and one wonders how such places have fared during the recession. Given the importance of housing and construction in many of these amenity boomtowns, it is likely that these places were impacted considerably in the recent housing-led recession.

While wealth was accumulating in many amenity-rich areas, migration was simultaneously drawing more socioeconomically marginal populations into different destinations producing concentrations of poverty and different types of housing related issues. The poor are a highly mobile population often moving in response to housing needs, and certain rural communities present more affordable housing options. Deindustrialization and persistent out-migration have resulted in under-utilized housing stocks in particular places, and the availability of more affordable housing can serve to draw the mobile poor into a community leading to increasing concentrations of poverty in specific geographic areas (Fitchen 1994, 1995; Foulkes and Newbold 2008; Ward 2011). With the slow economic recovery, persistently high unemployment, and rising poverty rates, the effects of the recession may be more protracted in these types of places, and these communities will be confronted with other housing related problems including affordability, homelessness, housing stress, heating, and maintenance.

The geographic concentrations of wealth and poverty in rural areas discussed above are symptomatic of overall increasing rural diversity, and such increasing diversity presents unique housing related issues in nonmetro regions. Layered on top of the landscapes of wealth and poverty, rural America is now home to a more racially and ethnically diverse population. Reorganization in agriculture and food processing has created pull factors drawing ethnic minorities to new rural destinations. Particularly regions in the southeastern United States and on the Great Plains have become home to increasing concentrations of Latinos and to a lesser extent southeast Asians (Broadway and Stull 2006; Kandel and Cromartie 2004; Kandel and Parrado 2006; Kandel and Parrado 2005). Housing these new racially and ethnically distinct populations (who at least initially tend to be mostly young men) puts pressure on the typically limited supply of rental housing present in rural areas, and also can lead to residential segregation in these new destinations (Nelson et al. 2009). In addition to racial diversity, out-migration of youth, in-migration of elderly, and aging of the post-war baby boomers all combine to present many rural areas with a rapidly aging population (Brown and Glasgow 2008; Litwak and Longino 1987; Longino and Bradley 2003; Morrill 1995; Rogers and Hemez-Deseryve 1993; Rogers and Raymer 2001). Housing this aging population is a pressing challenge, as communities struggle to provide the portfolio of housing options to enable their elderly to age in place (Pastalan 1999). Moreover, the loss of wealth in the form of home equity that occurred during the recent recession is likely to differentially impact these places with aging populations, as the value of ones home is often a resource the elderly use to support retirement. It remains unknown how these particular housing related issues are playing out in rural America.

Assessment of rural economies in light of the national recovery has shown that wealth in rural areas held up better over the recession than did metro wealth (Henderson, 2010). Rural home values, the greatest proportion of household wealth, held up better than home values in metro areas; and farm real estate values remained near historic highs. Yet, knowing which rural areas held up better than others, why, and the relationship to characteristics suggested for study in the three questions above is important to facilitating a sustained recovery. There is a dearth of analysis on rural housing markets and the interrelationship with defining social and economic characteristics of these areas. Understanding these relationships would elucidate how different strategies for rural development could help buffer future shocks and assist in setting state and local government spending priorities in an era of declining revenues and budget deficits at the state and federal level.

Relation to other extension projects

A CRIS search (see attachment) uncovered four research projects focusing on linkages between the recession and rural demographic change. Analysis of objectives and research results showed large enough differences in subject, geographic scale, disciplinary approach, or methodology to minimize any chance of duplication. We are the only group approaching these questions from a multi-state, multi-disciplinary perspective. We are the only project combining a national perspective with a strong emphasis on regional and local variation, with potential benefits to a broad constituency.

One possible exception is a project headed by Mildred Warner and David Brown titled, The Great recession, Fiscal Stress and Demographic Transformation: Implications for Rural Service Delivery and Multi-generational Planning. While this project examines how demographic transformations affect rural service delivery, its primary focus is on how fiscal stress and generational change affect the use, funding and availability of public services in rural areas. The research involves a national survey of service availability conducted by the International City managers Association, as well as case studies in particular municipalities across the country. Hence, while demographic change is part of the focus, the primary research questions concern the joint challenges of generational change and fiscal stress on local governmental capacity.


  1. Document the realignment of U.S. nonmetro population growth and decline during the periods before, during, and after the Great Recession of 2006-2009, examine the dynamics of these changes (births, deaths, internal and international migration), and investigate their social and economic determinants, paying close attention to regional and local variation.
  2. Describe shifts in rural unemployment and investigate linkages between job loss and population dynamics, notably the impact of rising unemployment on shifts in migration flows between nonmetro and metro areas and changes in levels of immigration to rural destinations.
  3. Examine dynamics in rural housing markets in light of shifting rural population composition and new economic realities, in particular how increased socioeconomic diversity in rural areas (age, race, household structure, class) alters the demand for different forms of rural housing, how poverty concentration in some areas and wealth in others creates housing stress, and how communities were differentially impacted by the housing-led recession.


Methods - General: All three objectives share methodological approaches and strategies for joint planning and data sharing that we developed in the predecessor committee. The research will still depend in large measure on aggregate-level, comparative, and cross-sectional analyses of population change and redistribution using data from various federal sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, USDA's Economic Research Service, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Committee members will collaborate to build databases that all members can access. Most of the work will be at the county level of analysis and will employ nonmetro counties as a proxy for rural and small-town areas. Each collaborator will pursue research in his/her area of expertise (e.g., migration, aging, poverty, community change, economic restructuring) using similar sets of measures, timelines, geographic breakdowns, and statistical tools whenever possible. For example, regional breakdowns will use the four U.S. Census regions or an alternative scheme that also separates the Great Plains from the Corn Belt or the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest from the Western Region. As in previous projects, survey research, case studies, focus groups, and other types of analyses will elaborate the information obtained from the aggregate level demographic analysis. These more intensive approaches strengthen and deepen explanations and provide additional, localized meaning to the aggregate, more quantitative information. Methods - Specific: To describe the changing distribution and composition of the rural population, we will primarily use population data from U.S. Census 2000 and 2010; the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS); IRS data on migration patterns; and a set of county-level net migration estimates by age, race, sex, and Hispanic origin for 2000-2010 currently being constructed by members of the committee. Data on unemployment and related labor-market indicators come from Bureau of Labor Statistics sources, including their Local Area Unemployment Statistics. Housing data come from the ACS, the Census Bureau's American Housing Survey and some new data sources (especially related to risky mortgages and foreclosure rates) requiring initial evaluation. We will develop a set of uniform demographic accounting methods, including rates and ratios, standardization, and group and subgroup decomposition (e.g. race and age categories, uniform measures of economic vulnerability). Exploratory data analysis and multivariate statistical techniques will be employed to investigate the determinants and consequences of rural population change during the Great Recession. Aggregate level analysis is frequently affected by spatial autocorrelation; we will use spatial regression analysis, where appropriate, to ensure that parameter estimation is carried out with models specified to account for autocorrelation in the data. As before, we will use geographic information technology (GIS) to visualize and explore the geographic variability of demographic and socioeconomic phenomena. As specific research questions are finalized, other data sources and methodologies will be incorporated, as needed. We may choose to take advantage of longitudinal surveys, such as those conducted as part of the National Institute on Aging's Health and Retirement Survey and the Department of Labor's National Longitudinal Studies. Results from recently-conducted, in-depth field studies carried out by committee members will most likely be integrated into committee output.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • The members of this committee have strong records of scholarly publication, and we anticipate producing a large number of articles in refereed journals and book chapters covering specific substantive issues related to the three objectives. We will produce policy-related issue briefs disseminated through a variety of outlets to make research results quickly and easily accessible to policy makers and stakeholders. In addition, we plan to use the Web to improve access to publications, issue briefs, and rural datasets.
  • We expect to organize one or more policy-oriented conferences, most likely based in Washington, DC. Our successful experience shows that such conferences can be readily organized and effectively publicized. A national conference on rural housing issues is currently being explored. Summary materials and workshop procedures will be produced to share with a wider audience.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Demographic analysis is essential for effective public policies and development practices in rural communities. As stated above, the research proposed here does not evaluate specific policies or practices, but it does provide information that is crucial to good decision-making. The demographic analyses provided by such research provides contextual information that will help public policy makers and local residents design or modify programs to address important social issues and problems and decide where public intervention is most needed. Moreover the national and regional level studies produced by this committee enable state and local decision makers to consider their respective situations in comparative context.
  • Results from W2001 research were disseminated widely among members of Congress, USDA rural development program managers, state legislatures, major non-governmental organizations, and regional, state, and local stakeholder groups. We expect to continue this level of outreach and to expand our contacts to include groups with particular interests in rural employment and housing issues.


(2013): As described above, we will spend the first year of this project working with Regional Rural Development Centers and policy groups to finalize a specific set of research questions within the broader scope of our objectives. Discussion results will be summarized and distributed to committee members, discussed electronically, and specifically addressed at the annual committee meeting at the end of the year. A policy-relevant research agenda on population and housing markets will be elaborated through discussions with housing experts at USDA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

(2014): Having established our research agenda, we will proceed with data collection and exploratory analyses. We will integrate data from different sources and standardize geographic definitions. A sub-committee will be formed to evaluate new housing market statistics and educate the rest of the committee on their potential usefulness.

(2015): Research covering all three objectives will be carried out. This will serve as a foundation for most of our peer-reviewed articles, issue briefs, and other publications. Planning will commence on a policy conference to be held in the final year of the project, including negotiations with potential sponsoring agencies. For example, HUD is a potential partner for a workshop on rural housing issues. As anticipated at this point, the most likely focus for a policy conference is work from Objective Three on housing issues, but this may change in light of knowledge gained in the first two years of work.

(2016): Production of articles, monographs, policy briefs, and user-friendly web postings will continue through this year, as will presentations at professional meetings and to stakeholder groups.

(2017): The final year will include a policy conference and the wrap up of joint publications, policy series, peer-reviewed articles, and other outputs by the committee.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

At the beginning of the project, constituent groups will be able to focus the framing of several specific research issues to be pursued by committee members. This will be accomplished at a policy conference in Washington DC in September, 2012, and through focus-group discussions set up with assistance from Regional Rural Development Centers . Books, articles, publications, and coordinated presentations at academic conferences (e.g. Rural Sociological Society, Association of American Geographers, Population Association of America, etc.) will be used to disseminate research findings to scholars. The committee will work through existing Extension networks and collaborate with the four Regional Rural Development Centers to share results and, where feasible, identify regional themes. In this way the committee hopes to disseminate results widely to state, regional and local government personnel and private sector decision-makers, non-governmental rural development professionals, and cooperative extension professionals. Other methods of dissemination include website publications, listservs, issue briefs, professional forums, and, policy workshops. The group plans, specifically, a nationwide workshop in Washington D.C. in the final year of the project.


Our technical committee will be organized according to the current structure of the W2001. Currently a Chair and Vice Chair are elected from attendees at the annual project meeting. The Chair coordinates the activities of the project and facilitates general meetings; the Vice Chair serves when the chair is unable to do so. A Program Coordinator organizes the committee's annual meetings and conducts educational sessions for the group. A listserv, based at Utah State University and supervised by a listserv administrator, facilitates interaction among committee members. It has long functioned as the principal venue of discourse among committee members in lieu of face-to-face interaction. A Local Arrangements Coordinator is responsible for the planning of each annual meeting. All officers are to elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor, currently Lou Swanson at Colorado State University.

The Project will be administered by: Colorado State University.

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Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Macalester College, Michigan Technological University, Middlebury College, New York - Syracuse University, other:LA, Southern Rural Development Center, University of Montana, University of Texas at San Antonio
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