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Hollowing Out the Middle Summary and Reviews

Hollowing Out the Middle

The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

by Patrick Carr & Maria J. Kefalas

Hollowing Out the Middle by Patrick Carr & Maria J. Kefalas X
Hollowing Out the Middle by Patrick Carr & Maria J. Kefalas
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Book Summary

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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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. 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." —Publishers Weekly

"Somewhat wonky, but an impassioned, mostly persuasive.manifesto from two advocates for small-town America." - Kirkus Reviews

"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

"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

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More Information

Patrick Carr is associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the author of Clean Streets.  Marria Kefalas held positions at the Brookings Institution, the University of Pennsylvania, and Barnard College before joining the faculty of Saint Joseph’s University, where she is associate professor in the Department of Sociology. She is the author of Working Class Heroes and Promises I Can Keep.

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