Hollowing Out the Middle

Hollowing Out the Middle

The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

By Patrick J. Carr; Maria J. Kefalas

Beacon Press (MA), Paperback, 9780807006146, 239pp.

Publication Date: July 27, 2010


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. They met and followed working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised them 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.

In a timely, new afterword, Carr and Kefalas address the question “so what can be done to save our communities?” They profile the efforts of dedicated community leaders actively resisting the hollowing out of Middle America. These individuals have creatively engaged small town youth—stayers and returners, seekers and achievers—and have implemented a variety of programs to combat the rural brain drain.  These stories of civic engagement will certainly inspire and encourage readers struggling to defend their communities.

Praise For Hollowing Out the Middle

“Written in an easily accessible style for the lay reader, this volume is filled with their observations of life in a rural community that is just “hanging on,” and stories from the young adults they met.”—Journal of Rural Social Sciences 

“An intriguing new book . . . [They] argue that it will take more than just free land initiatives to reverse rural America’s brain drain.”—Christina Gillham, Newsweek
“A fascinating study that brilliantly describes and analyzes the problems of rural towns in America that are emptying out.”—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University
“The authors present a brave and daunting examination of why the most talented, the most productive young people leave our small towns. . . . This book is so generative, so fiercely compelling . . . I urge you to read it.”—Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

“The undoing of Middle America is the great secret tragedy of our times. For shining a bright, unwavering light on the unfolding disaster, Carr and Kefalas deserve enormous credit.” —Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?

“Deft and detailed case studies bring the population to life. . . . The authors alert readers to this major change with clarity and compassion.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A worthy contribution to a conversation we desperately need to have.”—Bill Kauffman, Wall Street Journal
“Deftly researched and written, this book is highly recommended for sociologists, educators, policymakers, and anyone concerned about the future of this country.”—Library Journal, starred review