High gas prices threaten to drain small towns’ populations
By DONALD BRADLEY
The Kansas City Star
The expected exodus from small towns, said Don Macke, a widely considered authority on rural economics and head of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Lincoln, Neb., will be far more profound than the gradual erosion that has been going on since World War II. That decline was due to the country’s shift away from an agrarian economy and a choice for convenience: People wanted to be closer to jobs, shopping and entertainment.
The new flight, Macke thinks, will be more out of necessity.
Most commuters from small towns are high school graduates. They are driving 50 miles or more to work as school cooks, hospital aides, office workers, dental assistants and unskilled factory workers.
“The reality is that those jobs don’t pay all that well,” said Macke, who is also a visiting scholar with the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. “They’re spending up to $500 a month on gas. A third to half is already technically working poor.
“And as gas goes higher, they will get poorer and these towns will soon struggle to hold on to these people.”