Student Opportunity Gaps

3 Reasons Rural Counties Are Vibrant

By October 23, 2015 No Comments

An analysis of Minnesota’s population trends released by MREA today shows the classic picture of the glass is half empty, the glass is half full. While the number of people is declining in many of the state’s rural counties, they are rated among the best places to grow up and the vitality and potential remain vibrant.

Half Full

Three pieces of evidence for a half-full perspective include:

1. Income Growth
In a major Harvard University study of upward mobility, which is the hallmark of America’s meritocracy, Minnesota’s rural counties exceed the national average for income growth by the children of the poorest families (25th percentile of household income and below).

The Harvard researchers identified counties that exceed the national average as the “best places to grow up.” They include “better schools” among the five characteristics of areas that improve upward mobility for children.

  • Less segregation by income and race
  • Lower levels of income inequality
  • Better schools
  • Lower rates of violent crime
  • Larger share of two-parent households.

Find your county rates as a place to grow up on this interactive map. Read the Executive Summary of the Harvard study.

2. Nonprofit Growth
According to the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, the number of nonprofit organizations in rural Minnesota has increased over the past few decades. In Lac qui Parle County, a triangle of prairie, small towns and farmland tucked between the Minnesota River and the South Dakota border, the number of nonprofits rose 19 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The trend suggests that nonprofits are really a reflection of a community’s interests and demographics rather than a response to needs that aren’t being served by government or the private sector. “Our rural areas are much more diverse economically, socially and culturally than they used to be,” Extension Demographer Ben Winchester told MinnPost (MinnPost, Nonprofits, mirroring a national trend, grow in Minnesota’s smallest places, 8/28/15)

3. Job Growth
The growth in jobs especially in rural Minnesota’s regional centers mitigates a major driver of migration—looking for work. The limiting factor is availability of housing in many regional centers and surrounding towns. For example the City of Windom commissioned a study of this problem. It identified the need for 130 additional housing units between 2014 and 2020 in Windom.

The report also identified a major challenge to bringing developers to Windom is the low median household income in Windom ($34,614) compared to the state average ($56,700). MREA identified income inequality as a statewide issue in 2014. Read the full Windom report.

Series: Understanding Minnesota Population Trends

This part II in a series on Minnesota population trends. Read Part I on population declines and the impact on education.