Spatial Redistribution of Poverty through Migration of Poor People to Depressed Rural Communities1


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    Editor's Note: Janet Fitchen submitted a revised draft of this manuscript a few days before it was discovered that she was gravely ill; she died a few months later. This journal and the Rural Sociological Society benefited from her insight in many ways. What I'll remember is her unselfish assistance to Rural Sociology. I asked her to be an associate editor, but she declined because she was concerned that other responsibilities would not allow the time necessary to act as a referee as frequently as I requested. Yet she always reviewed papers whenever-I asked; what's more, her reviews were thorough, thoughtful, and contained a hopeful attitude appreciated by authors. She wrote the remainder of this note, in which her interest in others is obvious: An earlier version of tins paper was presented at the 1994 meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Portland, OR. The research in New York was conducted with support from the Ford Foundation through the Aspen Institute's Rural Economic Policy Program. I am indebted to community residents for sharing data and observations and to anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions.


Recent demographic studies document movement of poor people from both urban and rural places to depressed rural communities. Such migration redistributes poverty to rural areas and further concentrates it within them. This article presents a case study of one depressed community in New York that became a migration destination for urban poor people, causing dramatic increases in poverty rate, welfare rolls, and service needs. On-site research showed that the community's attraction was inexpensive rental housing that had become available after loss of manufacturing jobs prompted a middle-class exodus. The lack of jobs was not a deterrent for low-income inmigrants, though, because many of them had limited job skills and other employment barriers and would have had difficulty getting or holding a job anyway. Similar processes of economic decline, population loss, and poverty inmigration appear to be occurring elsewhere also. The article identifies community-level impacts and policy implications; it concludes with suggestions for further research needs.