Connectivity is Critical: What We Learned From Three Rural Counties

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For some time, research and news reports have highlighted a host of issues negatively impacting rural America. Total employment in rural counties has still not recovered to pre-Great Recession levels, a milestone that urban counties achieved in 2013.1 Struggling, too, is total population. Rural counties saw an increase in 2017, but that was the first time since 2011, and many of the counties have been hit so hard by the opioid epidemic that overdose deaths have affected the natural change—that is, the number of births and deaths—there.2,3 This is particularly true in Fourth District states; in 2016, the opioid-related overdose rates in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia exceeded the national average.4 Adding to the population dilemma is the struggle to retain college-educated young people: A recent research brief from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System examined “rural brain drain” and found that “individuals with student loan debt are less likely to remain in rural areas.”5

With these issues in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at rural counties in our District to better understand the unique economic conditions and challenges they face and to draw lessons from their experiences from which other rural counties can learn.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. 2018. Rural America at a Glance. Return
  2. Marema, Tim. 2018. “Rural America Gains Population for First Time in Six Years.” Daily Yonder. March 22. Return
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. 2018. Rural America at a Glance. Return
  4. Fee, Kyle. 2018. The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects: A Perspective on What We Know from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Return
  5. Tabit, PJ, and Josh Winters. 2019. “Rural Brain Drain”: Examining Millennial Migration Patterns and Student Loan Debt. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Return