Retirees Lift Fortunes in Rural America

Retirees Lift Fortunes in Rural America…

Adventurous baby boomers are bringing retirement savings and an economic boost to select U.S. counties, many trading city life for the great outdoors. The new arrivals are countering population declines in many rural counties.



My area, with its unusually pleasant climate, has attracted many retirees. On the positive side, we bring plenty of economic stimulus to an area whose traditional industries of fishing, logging and farming are low-paid and fading away. Also, the additional consumer buying power has brought national chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Home Depot which weren’t here when we arrived in 2003.

On the negative side, the housing market has been pushed out of reach of the locals. The biggest employer is the medical center. There are few good jobs for working people…but that isn’t a change.



Rural Missouri, the magazine of the REA rural electric co-ops, featured an article in the May issue of a co-op in Northwestern Missouri. They average 2.5 meters per mile and in the 2010s were seeing a decline in customers.

We know population is shrinking in rural counties. Before the pill, large farm families were common to provide labor for the farm work. And as they grew older they became employees for local industries.

That changed in about 1960. Declining birth rate, smaller family size, and mechanized farming mean much larger farms and fewer people. The last of the large family farmers are retiring now. Retirees tend to stay in the area close to family and friends. But as they pass those slots will not be filled.

The utility found that over 80% of their customers lacked high speed internet. They obtained $21MM under a federal program and began installing internet service in 2013. The result has been substantial growth. Broadband internet attracted more people to their service area and pays dividends with more customers for both services.