Beacon Press: Hollowing Out the Middle
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Hollowing Out the Middle

The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

Authors: Patrick J. Carr, Maria J. Kefalas

A Midwest Connections Pick

Startling research shows that small towns from Maine to Missouri are in jeopardy from exporting their most precious resource: young people.

In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. Articles and books notably Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class celebrate the migration of highly productive and creative workers to key cities. But what happens to the towns that they desert, and to the people who are left behind?

To answer that question, Carr and Kefalas moved to “Ellis,” a small town of two thousand. Ellis is typical of many places struggling to survive, and Iowa is typical of many states in the Heartland, aging rapidly. One reason is that many small towns simply aren’t regenerating, but another is that its educated young people are leaving in droves.

In Ellis, Carr and Kefalas met the working-class “stayers,” trying to survive in the region’s dying agro-industrial economy; the high-achieving and college-bound “achievers,” who often leave for good; the “seekers” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and the “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised Carr and Kefalas most, was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by underinvesting in those who choose to stay-even though these young people are their best chance for a future.

The emptying out of small towns is a national concern, but there are strategies for arresting the process and creating sustainable, thriving communities. Hollowing Out the Middle is a wake-up call we cannot afford to ignore-not only because sixty million Americans still live in rural communities and small towns, but because our nation’s economic health and future is tied to the Heartland.
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Hollowing Out the Middle is a rural panorama of heart-wrenching proportion.” —Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America and The Oxford Project

“The undoing of Middle America is the great secret tragedy of our times. For shining a bright, unwavering light on the unfolding disaster, Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas deserve enormous credit; for proposing solutions that actually have a chance of succeeding, they deserve the gratitude of frustrated midwesterners everywhere.” —Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew

“In Hollowing Out the Middle the authors present a brave and daunting examination of why the most talented, the most productive young people leave our small towns and what can be done to stop this exodus. Those millions, like myself contributors to this Hollowing Out the Middle, who have flourished from the discipline, the warmth, the security, the high expectations, and the life experiences, devoutly wish these same small-town benefits for their children and grandchildren. This book is so generative, so fiercely compelling that I discovered that in my quiet moments, in my early morning wakeful periods, I became absorbed and engaged in the task of trying to solve the well-nigh unsolvable dilemmas presented here. I urge you to read this book.” —Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Hollowing Out the Middle is a fascinating study that brilliantly describes and analyzes the problems of rural towns in America that are emptying out. It will raise national awareness of a serious domestic problem that has largely escaped media, political, and scholarly attention.” —William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor Harvard University

“Reminiscent of the great sociological classics, Middletown and Elmtown’s Youth, Pat Carr and Maria Kefalas have produced an exemplary account of coming of age in a midwestern town. This book is required reading for the policy and research community and anyone thinking about issues facing young adults in America.” —Frank Furstenberg, Zellerbach Family Chair of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania and author of Destinies of the Disadvantaged: The Politics of Teenage Childbearing


Review: Journal of Rural Social Sciences - July 11, 2011
“Written in an easily accessible style for the lay reader, this volume is filled with their observations of life in a rural community that is just 'hanging on,' and stories from the young adults they met.”
Review: - February 1, 2010
“There aren’t a lot of easy answers, but Carr and Kefalas do a great job of digging into some of the causes of the hollowing out. I found the writing easy to read and a good mix of the anecdotal and statistical. I highly recommend Hollowing Out the Middle, particularly for those who live in small-town America, but even for those who don’t. This is not a problem that will be solved without support from the majority of the population that lives in metropolitan areas.”
Review: The Christian Century - January 26, 2010
“Carr and Kefalas raise questions for the church in a narrative sociology that draws us into the lives and values of rural communities and congregations. Never pushy or polemic, the authors suggest what the future may be like if we continue to travel down the road we’ve taken, and they hint at a better direction as well.”
Review: Midwest Book Review - December 16, 2009
An interesting discussion of the fate of small town America and what could truly be the cause, Hollowing Out the Middle is a fascinating and highly recommended read.
Review: Wall Street Journal - November 11, 2009
Hollowing Out the Middle is a worthy contribution to a conversation we desperately need to have.”
Review: Library Journal, Starred Review - November 10, 2009
“Deftly researched and written, this book is highly recommended for sociologists, educators, policymakers, and anyone concerned about the future of this country.”
Review: Publishers Weekly - September 30, 2009
"With a massive 'youth exodus' from heartland America, small towns face extinction . . . Deft and detailed case studies bring the population to life. . . . [and] the authors alert readers to this major change with clarity and compassion."
Read the authors' article "The Rural Brain Drain" in the Chronicle Review

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Hollowing Out the Middle

ISBN: 978-080704238-0
Publication Date: 10/1/2009
Pages: 256
Size: x Inches (US)
Price:  $26.95
Format: Cloth
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