S1, E3 – Job Loss: Why Are So Many Jobs Leaving Rural America? Conversation with Dr. Trenton Ellis

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From January 2016 to January 2017, the region known as Forgottonia lost approximately 2,775 jobs.  To learn why, we sat down with Dr. Trenton Ellis, a rural sociologist from Black Hills St. University.  Although he lives in Spearfish, South Dakota, Ellis is a native of Forgottonia growing up in Canton, IL and graduating from Spoon River College in 2005. After SRC, Ellis completed undergraduate and master’s degrees from Western Illinois University in Macomb.  In 2009 he matriculated to South Dakota State University’s Department of Sociology and Rural Studies where he graduated with a PhD in sociology in 2015. In 2016 he was awarded an outstanding Teaching Award at BHSU.

The following is an excerpt from our interview with Dr. Ellis.

Forgottonia’s governor, the late Neil Gamm, gave an interview not long before he passed away.  In this final interview, he said we are ripe for a new movement in Forgottonia today.  Only this movement should be less about infrastructure, and more about a crucial issue plaguing rural America…JOBS. Although Forgottonia was built on the idea that Western IL has been largely forgotten, the message to bring jobs was heard loud and clear in the 2016 presidential election.  All 16 counties voted in favor of Donald Trump who especially appealed to rural Americans with his campaign promise to bring back jobs from overseas markets (For reference, it´s rare for all 16 counties to have this much consensus on a presidential candidate. In 2008 for instance, Forgottonia chose Obama in 9 of the 16 counties while the other 7 went to John McCain).

But how accurate is this idea, especially in regards to our area of Forgottonia? It’s no secret that growth has been difficult the past few decades throughout much of rural America. So what happened to these jobs? And what will it take to bring jobs to places like Forgottonia?

Take a look at recent data to examine just how tragic the loss of jobs is. Now you should know first that everyone lost jobs after the 2008 economic crash; but what’s happened since the latest economic recovery is interesting.  The Burea of Labor Statistics found that 8 out of 10 jobs created in 2016 were in the 51 metropolitan areas of a million people or more. Urban areas overall gained 1.2 million jobs between Jan. 2016 and Jan. 2017. But this was not the story for rural Americans who suffered 90,000 fewer jobs last month alone.

Unfortunately, the data in Forgottonia also tells a story of suffering.  13 of the 16 counties in Forgottonia experienced job loss from Jan. 2016-2017 and the gains in Brown, Calhoun and Mercer counties were minimal at best. In the past year Forgottonia lost a total of 2,775 jobs.

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