National economy booms while rural towns struggle to recover

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- From Maine to Alaska, the national economic engine continues to pick up speed. But, the areas in between America’s cities are being left behind. Two-thirds of rural economies still haven’t recovered jobs lost in the Great Recession.

Tina Shaw is the president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce in West Virginia. “I think the whole state is struggling a little bit right now,” she said. Shaw said her pocket of the state is growing faster than any other. But, according to a report from Moody's Investors Service, the county still has fewer jobs than it did in 2007. Economic gains are limited by an aging population, and young workers leaving for job opportunities in big cities.

“We’re trying to focus on how to keep our young talent in the state… find ways to get them back,” she said of initiatives to kick-start the local economy.

Expanding high-speed internet’s availability could help small towns tap into big city job markets from afar. But, those who crunch the national data said most efforts to help rural economies get out of their funk aren’t working.

Moody’s Analyst Frank Mamo was one of the authors of the company's recent report: 'Rural America confronts growing economic and demographic challenges'. “There isn’t a clear strategy that works,” he said, "the areas that we have seen recover nicely have kind of a unique circumstance.”

Mamo said natural resources -- like energy production or a strong tourism draw -- help some areas buck the trend. He said cities are catering to the historically-strong demand for service jobs; manufacturing meanwhile is slipping as are the rural economies that rely on it.

He notes that trend does pre-date 2008, “it’s possible this was inevitable, and the recession sped this up.”

Many communities are slashing budgets as fewer workers generate less tax money for local government. One in five jobs in rural areas are government jobs, so cutting them can provide substantial savings. But, that’s a delicate balancing act because employing fewer people also drains even more cash out of the local economy.

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