As I read Sarah Jones’s article at The New Republic, “Telling Rural People To Move Won’t Solve Poverty”:
It sounds easy enough: If you can’t find a job where you are, move. But experts tell me that this refrain is a gross oversimplification. The problems that plague rural America did not originate there, and their consequences do not end where cities begin. The roots of rural poverty in fact say quite a bit about the nature of poverty generally—both why it happens and what can be done to prevent it.
“Just like there’s not one urban America, there’s not one rural America either,” explained Kenneth Johnson, who teaches demography and sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Some rural areas shrink with disproportionate speed; others, however, are actually experiencing net in-migration. The differences frequently map onto differences in regional industries. “For example, the parts of rural America that tend to receive net in-migration most of the time are those that are just beyond the edges of the urban areas,” Johnson said. “And then the other ones that often will receive migration gains are recreational or retirement kind of amenity areas.”
it came to me that she’s ignoring the enormous subsidies that cities receive. Consider just one city: Washington, DC. Not only are the headquarters of every federal agency located there, the lobbyists, law firms, think tanks, and other organizations that are creatures of those federal agencies are, too, and they provide an enormous boost to the local economy. Housing prices aren’t high in the DC metro area because of the clement climate and beautiful scenery. It’s because there’s money there.
Every major city benefits from a vast array of federal, state, and local government agencies and the financial benefits they bring. It’s no accident that the first counties to recover after the Great Recession were those where seats of government were located.
It doesn’t have to be that way at least not any more and large private sector organizations increasingly tend not to operate that way. On a daily basis I meet with people on three continents and a dozen cities and it doesn’t matter whether I’m sitting in a cubicle in the office or at my dining room table. I’ve sometimes thought of setting up a blue screen in my dining room, projecting a palatial office onto it, and turning the video on for more meetings.
As more Americans become urban dwellers the temptation to design programs that work best in urban settings becomes irresistible and the whole thing becomes one enormous feedback loop.
Here’s my (modest) proposal for reducing rural poverty. Relocate federal agencies. Moving HHS’s headquarters from the Hubert Humphrey Building to Yazoo City would unquestionably boost the local economy there. And would probably be a lot cheaper to operate.