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Timothy Collins, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs Assistant Director

IIRA Report: Rural IL Status Over Last 20 Years

October 12, 2012


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Rural Illinois Perspectives by Timothy Collins, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs Assistant Director

MACOMB, IL — A new Rural Research Report from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University suggests rural areas of the state have fared worse than neighboring states during the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Yet, some local strategies might help offset some of the impacts of decline.

During the recent recession, rural Illinois, including its micropolitan areas, suffered more than the adjacent states, according to the report, "The Rural Midwest: How Is It Faring?" The authors, Norman Walzer and Brian L. Harger, both of the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies, point out the financial condition of local and state governments make matters worse because of delays or cutbacks in payments to local government units.

Between 2000 and 2010, population gains in Illinois were half of those in the surrounding states and one-third compared with gains in the U.S. Overall, rural and micropolitan areas of Illinois lost 4.5 percent of their population. Meanwhile, declines in the youth population under age 17 in Illinois' rural areas were more than double compared with surrounding states and nearly four times greater than in rural populations nationwide. This was accompanied by declines in the 18-44 and 65-84 age groups.

Employment in the state's rural areas also suffered. Overall employment declined 6.7 percent between 2000 and 2010. Service was the only sector to show any growth; employment grew by 2.9 percent. Manufacturing showed the greatest losses, 35.3 percent, followed by farming, 25.1 percent. Wholesale and retail trade employment fell 6.4 percent.

The state's economic and demographic problems, which have built up over the past several decades, are not insurmountable, according to the report. Changing conditions in national and global economies offer several possibilities communities to consider, including stimulating broadband, value-added agriculture and entrepreneurship.

Although the authors see evidence that a recovery from the protracted recession is underway, traditionally Illinois tends to enter a recession later and recover more slowly; thus, rural areas may have to wait before employment rebounds to pre-recession levels. Nevertheless, local public officials need to move ahead with concerted actions to revitalize their communities.

The Governor's Rural Affairs Council and IIRA are two state-level agencies that can help community leaders find a vision for revitalization and the strategies to implement it. The bottom line, however, is that revitalization efforts must start locally with a clear vision of what a community or region wants, according to the report.

By combining rural resources with hard work and committed effort, rural Illinois communities can have a positive outlook for the future.

You can view the report on the World Wide Web at www.iira.org/pubs/publications/IIRA_RRR_740.pdf. You can also obtain copies of the items by contacting the IIRA toll free at (800) 526-9943.

The Rural Research Report is a series published by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs to provide brief updates on research projects conducted by the IIRA. Rural Research Reports are peer-reviewed and distributed to public officials, libraries and professional associations involved in specific policy issues.

Western Illinois University is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity institution. For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, visit www.IIRA.org. For more information, contact Collins toll free at (800) 526-9943 or via email at T-Collins@wiu.edu.

Posted By: WIU News (U-Relations@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations