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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

Rural Development, Food Stamps

Youth. Partick Carr and Maria Kefalas reported that the 2,000-resident city they called "Ellis" in Iowa was typical of the brain drain from rural America. Many young people leave small towns in rural America for higher education and do not return. Carr and Kefalas distinguish achievers, who leave for college from seekers who join the military, and found that adults often encouraged the best and brightest local youth to leave Ellis.

American Community Survey data for 2006-08 showed college graduates increasingly moving to high-tech cities such as Austin, Portland, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Seattle. Cities losing college graduates included Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland.

Rural development has traditionally meant attracting factories to areas where farms were becoming fewer and larger so that workers displaced from farming could find nonfarm factory jobs. Rural communities often competed for factories by offering low-cost land and low taxes, and many economic development offices emphasized that local workers would accept low wages.

Competing for jobs on the basis of low costs and wages is a less effective economic development strategy in a globalizing world. The OECD recommends that rural communities cooperate by forming regional partnerships to capitalize on local strengths, and that these partnerships set priorities for local infrastructure investments that make it easier for the region to compete on the basis of producing innovative products rather than low costs.

Food Stamps. The Food Stamp program, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( in 2008, provided an average $102 a month to 28.4 million US residents in FY08. By August 2009, both benefits and participation rose, to an average $133 a month; 36.5 million US residents received benefits.

In Fall 2009, it was estimated that Food Stamp rolls were rising by 20,000 a day; by some estimates up to 50 million US residents are eligible for Food Stamps. The federal government pays the entire cost of Food Stamps, but states administer the program.

Food Stamps, often called "nutritional aid," are received by at least 25 percent of residents in 239 US counties; in 800 counties, a third of children under 18 are in families that receive Food Stamps. By some estimates, half of US 18-year olds have received Food Stamps sometime in their lives; among Blacks, 90 percent received Food Stamps sometime before turning 18.

In major farming counties such as Fresno and Tulare, California, almost 20 percent of all residents, and a third or more of children, receive Food Stamps. California has the lowest share of residents eligible for Food Stamps receiving them, about half; in Missouri, 98 percent of eligible residents are enrolled.

Carr, Patrick J. and Maria J. Kefalas. 2009. Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America.

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