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Reversing The 'Brain Drain' In Rural America

Jennifer Gatrell is a rancher with her husband Jeff in Missouri.
James Morrison/WAMU
Jennifer Gatrell is a rancher with her husband Jeff in Missouri.

Rural America has never been only one place, one type of person or one type of job.

And new data points to the growing complexity and diversity of those parts of the country.

Author and podcast host Sarah Smarsh wrote in The New York Times recently about so-called “brain gain” instead of “brain drain.”

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported a prairie trend of young people, drawn by family ties and affordable entrepreneurship, returning to rural and small-town homes around college graduation. They’re opening restaurants or starting small, unconventional farming operations. One college senior founded a direct-to-consumer beef company in Otoe County, Neb., and sold $52,000 worth of meat in the past nine months.

This return — or refusal to leave — is good news for Americans who will happily remain in cities. The future of rural is intertwined with suburban and urban outcomes by way of food production, natural resources, the economy, political movements and beyond.

What makes for success in some spots? And what’s driving people away from others?

We expand on our previous conversation about how to report on rural America with Smarsh, data journalist Dante Chinni of the American Communities Project at George Washington University and Monica Potts, who moved back home to Clinton, Arkansas, to write about low-income women in her hometown.

Produced by Stacia Brown.


Dante Chinni, Director of the American Communities Project at the George Washington University; data journalist for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal; author of “Our Patchwork Nation”; @Dchinni

Sarah Smarsh, Journalist; host, “The Homecomers” podcast; @Sarah_Smarsh

Monica Potts, Journalist based in rural Arkansas; @MonicaBPotts

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© 2019 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2019 WAMU 88.5

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