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Abstract

Despite a widespread decline in rural poverty in the 1990s, a quarter of nonmetro counties lost population over the decade. Poverty rates were no higher in these counties than in counties without population loss. We identify remote (from metro areas), thinly settled counties as “frontier” counties, arguing that the lack of access to services and the small labor market sizes in these counties inhibits the inmigration of people and businesses, particularly in the absence of compensating natural amenities. In two of every three low-amenity frontier counties, population loss exceeded 5 percent in 1990-2000. Most of these counties are farming-dependent, less because of their abundance of agriculture than because of their dearth of other economic activities. Some low-amenity frontier counties did gain population in the past decade. We look at these exceptions to see if there are rural development lessons to be learned.

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