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Report: Montana Rural Areas “Exporting” Workers

December 7, 2011

BILLINGS, Mont. - Rural Montana is missing something in the middle, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census numbers.

The Center For Rural Affairs report finds a downward trend of residents in their 20s, 30s and 40s, while the numbers of young people and seniors are holding steady.

Report author Jon Bailey, the center’s research director, explains that working-age Montanans leave because they need good-paying jobs that tend to be scarce outside of cities and towns.

"So, you're left with these 'bookend generations' that require, generally, a lot more human services than the middle, working-age population."

The research demonstrates the need to focus on new and innovative ways to create rural economic opportunities, Bailey says. Renewable energy, broadband expansion and ecotourism are recommended in the report as investments that could help grow working-age populations, and in turn, better support the younger and older generations.

"The implications for what that has on what we do policy-wise and what type of services have to be provided in rural places, and how that gets funded."

Rural areas depend on the taxes paid by working-age folks to fund education and health care, Bailey says, so it hurts the whole community when they leave. The trend isn't unique to Montana; the report shows the same story throughout the Great Plains.

The report, "Age Distribution on the Great Plains," is online at files.cfra.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT