Economic Perspective: Is Moving to a City Always Successful?

NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Dr. Mike Walden working in a recording studio.


“Today’s program asks if moving to city is always successful. Mike, the bright lights of cities have always been attractive to many people looking for success. On the average, has making this move worked in the past, and does it work now?”


“Well, I think you can see stories, or maybe you have stories in your family, or watch movies that have these stories where yes that has worked in the past; that people find that life in the rural areas, life in small towns is hard, and it may be tough to eke out a living so they move to the city. On average I’d say up to about 1990, maybe even 2000, that worked for a lot of people. They could find more opportunities. They could find better paying jobs coming from the rural, small-town areas and moving to the big city whether this is in New York, Oklahoma or here in North Carolina.”

“But research has recently found, especially if you look at the data since 2000, that doesn’t seem to be working. What they have tracked are people who are coming from rural areas into the cities, and usually those folks coming in from rural areas, maybe they have a high school degree at most and are looking for better opportunities in the city, and what we’re now finding is they don’t get them on average.”

“They’re not finding those opportunities so their income is not changing much. And the reason for this is the nature of employment in cities has dramatically changed. Now the people who are doing well in cities are not those folks who’ve moved from rural areas and sort of pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. You have to have a college degree in many cases to take the good paying jobs that increasingly are going to the cities.”

“So this is a big change, and it’s one that I think a lot of us will have to confront, for example, in the educational area. How do we provide opportunities for folks, particularly in the rural and small town areas, to increase their income mobility.”

Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist in
the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University who teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy.

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