Small-town natives are moving back home

Over the past few years, a growing number of Americans have been moving back to the small towns and rural communities they were once encouraged to leave. Thanks in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, 52% of adults age 18 to 29 lived with their parents in 2020, the largest share since the Great Depression, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data indicate that large metro areas have seen declining growth and in some instances population losses since 2010.

Many people move home to help out with family businesses, support aging loved ones or share the joys of small-town life with their kids. I left Fruitland, Idaho, for college on the East Coast in 2009 and now live in northern Virginia. While writing a book about the farm community where I grew up, however, I discovered many people who have chosen to move back home as part of a larger mission. They are fighting rural poverty, restoring broken food economies and bringing health back to neglected soil. Their vision of success has less to do with financial prosperity or personal comfort than with the more demanding values of stewardship, investment and care…

Others—especially those who leave home for more left-leaning universities or urban centers—may feel estranged from the political, social or religious beliefs of their rural cohorts. Ideas of a deep urban-rural divide are often exaggerated, based on stereotypes of race and class that discount both the diversity of rural America and the economic anxieties of many urban communities. Still, there is no denying that the U.S. is politically polarized along geographic lines.