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Northwestern Wisconsin: The Bookend Phenomena

December 12, 2011

LYONS, Neb. - In a large area of the northwest part of Wisconsin, young adults continue to move away, leaving what the Center for Rural Affairs calls "bookend generations:" Only the youngest and oldest residents remain.

Center research director Jon Bailey has just written a report about this trend. It affects young adults in large areas of the Midwest and Great Plains, who stay home only while they're young, he says.

"When they turn 18, the population of rural places really starts to change. People in their 20s, 30s, 40s - working-age young adults and older adults - begin to move to the more urban places of their region."

Having bookend generations is not good, says Bailey, because it affects the economics of the entire region.

"We really need to start thinking about some policy choices to change that, where we get more investment and job opportunities and business creation strategies in rural places, to try to at least begin to halt and maybe reverse that decline in the middle-age working adult population."

The Center for Rural Affairs supports creation of a Rural Renewal Initiative in the next farm bill. It urges congress to commit $500 million over five years to reverse the rural brain-drain.

The Initiative could be paid for by tightening the limits on farm payments received by the largest farmers, Bailey says, and by reducing direct farm payments by just 2 percent. He adds that the Rural Renewal Initiative would have many facets.

"It would provide investment in broadband technology, renewable energy, food systems, eco-tourism - the kinds of things that will allow rural communities to start to set their own economic agenda for the future."

Federal contributions to rural development have been plummeting for years, Bailey notes.

The census brief is available as a pdf at

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI