Blending economic classes in rural Minnesota boosts youth upward mobility

Posted in Vibrant Rural

We often say if you’ve been to one small town, you’ve been to one small town. Each rural community is unique, with its own gems, challenges and culture.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, though, you most likely have heard a sentence like, “Oh, I know her. She’s my niece’s third grade teacher turned aerobic instructor that just started going to my church.”

With fewer people, social circles often overlap. A colleague is in your knitting circle. The local grocery store owner teaches your son’s Boy Scouts. Your carpenter volunteers with you on Wednesdays.

Cross-pollination of relationships creates networks that mix members of different socioeconomic classes. This mixing is key to giving young people growing up in poverty the boost they need to move up to the middle class, according to research coming out of Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley.

Star Tribune reporter Adam Belz covers this research in his three-part series entitled, “Rising from Poverty.” He writes, “Compared with cities and suburbs, it is much easier to move up into the middle class from rural Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Well-off and hard-up kids go to school together in small towns. They come of age in tight social networks that run through extended family, neighbors, church, school and fields. They feel pressure to work hard and succeed.”

University of Minnesota Extension rural sociologist Ben Winchester elaborates, “The key factor for all children is to grow up in a place where different economic classes live together, he said. In cities, the rich and poor live largely separate lives, and in the country everyone grows up together.

“All classes are forced to interact in a small town,” said Winchester, the U sociologist. “Rugged individualism got our population here, but community keeps us here.”

Read the full story at Star Tribune