GARDEN CITY, Kansas – In recent years, the USDA and the Census Bureau have tracked a decline in population in rural America. Many of those who leave are young adults.
“People were either struggling with keeping their young people, or they were trying to find ways that they really could engage the younger populations in their communities,” said Liz Sosa, a member of PowerUps, a movement by the Kansas Sampler Foundation that works with people who are “Rural by Choice“.
The reason for leaving can be because of location, access, or opportunities.
“Depending on where [new people] come from, they’re activities are just different. When you’re out here, you have to think more of what do you want to do, and then you just have to adapt,” said Miranda Helfrich, the President of Finney County Young Professionals.
It’s estimated that the population in Kansas grew by about 40,000 people between 2010 and 2013, but census data also shows that people are leaving small towns faster than the population can recharge naturally (by births and family growth). A recent study supports that thought. The United Van Lines’ Annual National Movers Study tracks customers moving patterns from state-to-state, and their 2014 numbers show that of the people moving in or out of Kansas 58% were leaving the state.
Because population loss can be detrimental to community viability, state and federal departments offer incentives from student loan repayment to rural housing opportunities. The Department of Commerce designates 77 of 105 counties as Rural Opportunity Zones to entice Kansans to live in rural areas.
At a personal level, advocates focus on helping people make connections.
“We just want them to know that there are other young people involved, and that if they love this town we know how to get them involved,” Helfrich said.