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Why Do Young People Leave Our Rural Communities?

Updated December 18, 2018

Peggy Schlechter

SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist

It’s no secret that young people are leaving our rural communities in South Dakota. If you read the newspapers or watch the news on television, you also know this isn’t a challenge that only South Dakota communities are facing; it is happening across the nation. Many rural communities are showing a population decline as well as a decrease in the number of young people.

So why do young people leave our rural communities? One reason may be the economic climate. In most rural communities there are few jobs that pay well and there aren’t lots of job options.

Another reason is that our educational system may do a better job of educating our youth to go to work for others rather than working for themselves. There just aren’t lots of opportunities to enter the corporate world here in rural South Dakota so those students who do well in school are often expected to migrate to cities in search of an upwardly mobile lifestyle.

According to the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, another reason could be attitude. There can be a negative attitude among adults in struggling communities. The adults may believe that their community is experiencing a slow, unavoidable death. This attitude can lead youth to assume there are no opportunities for them there.

The book Hollowing Out the Middle investigates the rural brain drain which is a concept that tells us our best and our brightest leave the rural communities. While we may want to change our rural communities to encourage our young people to stay, the young people receive many messages that encourage them to leave.

Identifying some of the reasons our young people leave will get us closer to understanding how to overcome those challenges, even if the challenges seem overwhelming. Setting specific goals can help community leaders give control of the future back to the community.

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Developing Communities