Nomadland

PG doesn’t know if stories like Nomadland will resonate with visitors from outside the United States or not.

During the past several decades, there has been a significant population movement away from small cities and small towns, often in the middle of the country, an area some have called, “flyover country” given that flights from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again pass over this middle area without stopping.

The detailed results of the 2020 US Census started being released in the second quarter of 2021. They showed the second-lowest total ten-year growth rate ever recorded in the US. (The lowest growth decade was during the Great Depression in the late 1920’s-30’s.)

37 states grew more slowly during the 2010-2020 period than they did in the prior ten-years and three states lost population. California had its lowest growth rate ever due largely to the state’s high cost-of-living and state taxes. Some large and medium-sized California employers have also moved parts of their operations to lower-cost states. States like West Virginia, Illinois and Michigan lost population.

Within states and regions, there has also been a notable migration away from rural and small-town locations to medium and large-sized cities. This trend has hit rural areas in several middle-western states hard.

During the Covid shut-down, some smaller and different patterns appeared. A few individuals, usually mid-level office employees and some professionals, learned that remote work was possible and enjoyable and moved from expensive coastal cities and suburbs into small town and rural settings, expecting to have to go into the offices much less frequently or not at all.

This out-migration has not been nearly large enough to counter-balance the longer-term flattening of population growth in the more empty places, particularly empty places that don’t feature oceans, mountains, forests, etc. Aging populations with low birth rates have also impacted growth in some areas.

Texas, Florida, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona have grown substantially faster than the average.

Nomadland is a 2020 motion picture set in the empty places of the United States. As the PBS documentary in the second video window depicts, more than a few middle and lower-income families who suffered from Covid-related job losses have left their homes, hit the road and adopted a new lifestyle, often located in those empty places.

3 thoughts on “Nomadland”

  1. It’s a bit early to say whether urbanization is increasing or decreasing. Demographic shifts (in the absence of war) are slow things.

    It takes time for people to decide to change their environment – first, to realize that they can, then to decide that they actually want to, then to execute that desire.

    Then there are the inevitable counter-pressures, and you can’t say for sure at what point they stop the migration. (Such as the current large increase in small town and rural house prices, very large increase in building prices, and a decrease in what you can get out of your urban property.)

    The ACS (American Community Survey) is run on a yearly basis – it will be interesting to see what trends that shows in the coming years.

    • The key driver in the heartland is jobs.
      People don’t move into the beehives because they prefer the lifestyle but because they need to earn a living and they are willing to do what it takes.

      Beyond that there are quality of life issues which include things like communications and retail; it is no accident Walmart became Walmart by avoiding big population centers and still do, only going as far as suburbs. Amazon and Dollar stores have also prospered in tbat space.

      The ongoing efforts to provide broadband in low density areas should help but the USPS isn’t exactly fond of their rural operations. Maybe drones can help there. And the pandemic has driven home the lessons of the 19th century that big cities aren’t totally healthy environments.

      So yes, it’s too early to tell but the support elements are in place to *enable* a recolonization of the heartland, reversing some of the beehive building. On tbe flip side, big cities are developing technologies to free themselves of their dependence on the heartland (vertical farms, plant-based meats) for food. It can go either way (CAVES OF STEEL or NAKED SUN’s Solaria) or both.

      It’ll probably be a mix, a new balance.

      • Walmart did more good for the rural poor than all the well-intentioned government programs combined, Felix.

        Great prices and decent quality was something not to be found in an enormous number of small towns in the US.

        Walmart certainly put a lot of small retailers in small towns out of business, but that was because the residents voted with their feet. Walmart was cheaper, had a much better selection and, often was cleaner than the retail establishments that existed in those towns prior to Walmart. If you were to ask the residents who lived in a small town both before and after Walmart opened, very few would have said that their lives were better before Walmart.

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