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Rural Depopulation: What Does It Mean for the Future Economic Health of Rural Areas and the Community Banks That Support Them?
Jeffrey Walser (au); John Anderlik (au)
The U.S. is in the midst of a major demographic event: the depopulation of a significant portion of the nation’s rural counties. Rural depopulation has ramifications for the future economic viability of the counties involved and for the banks that serve these counties. This study spells out the causes and ramifications of depopulation, explores the effects of depopulation on community banks in the depopulating regions, and discusses possible policies for coping with the phenomenon. In part 1, after locating the major areas of rural depopulation in four regions — the Great Plains, the Corn Belt, the Delta-South, and Appalachia-East — the authors focus on the relationship between agriculture and population density; the relationship between agriculture and depopulation; the contributing factors of technological change, organizational innovation, and change in fertility patterns; the demographic components of depopulation (the increase in the proportion of elderly people in depopulating counties, and the exodus of the most educated and skilled young people); and the commercial structure of rural counties and how it affects — and is affected by — depopulation. They also discuss the vicious circle of decline. Part 2 looks at community banks in the Great Plains, which is undergoing the most serious depopulation. Across the nation, more than 1,400 insured financial institutions with total assets of more than $131 billion are based in counties with declining populations. Many of these banks will face challenges on both sides of the balance sheet: funding becomes increasingly difficult, and the demand for loans continues to wane. Rural depopulation therefore has significant implications for the U.S. banking industry, especially with regard to the long-term health of rural community banks. The Great Plains is where the problem is most advanced. Part 3 is a brief look not only at policy approaches to depopulation but also at the prospects for the banking industry in depopulating rural areas. Tables and figures.
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