Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic today, from Fossil, Oregon, under the headline, "The Graying of Rural America." A short excerpt follows:
Fossil is the seat of Wheeler County, where the median age is 56, which is the highest of any county in Oregon. By contrast, the median age of Multnomah County, where Portland is located, is 36.1. From 2000 to 2013, the median age in Wheeler County rose from 48 to 56.
Wheeler is also Oregon’s least populous county, with just 1,300 people, and its whitest (94.3 percent of its residents are white). Being three and a half hours from Portland doesn’t exactly attract very many people, especially young or non-white ones. After the Kinzua lumber mill closed in 1978, the town began bleeding jobs—today, there are only 347 full-time jobs in the whole county, not counting self-employment. This is a 42 percent decrease in wage and salary employment since 1970, according to an analysis by Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Montana-based consulting firm.
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Over the past two decades, as cities have become job centers that attract diverse young people, rural America has become older, whiter, and less populated. Between 2010 and 2014, rural areas lost an average of 33,000 people a year. Today, just 19 percent of Americans live in areas the Census department classifies as rural, down from 44 percent in 1930. But roughly one-quarter of seniors live in rural communities, and 21 of the 25 oldest counties in the United States are rural.
Population decline in rural America is especially concentrated in the West. There’s a lot of wide-open land there, but most people, and young people especially, live in the cities. Half the jobs in Oregon, for example, are now in three counties in and around Portland, according to a study by Headwaters.