April 1, 2016 at 10:23 pm #48112
This thread is prompted by some of the comments in the tiny house” thread, except that I am trying to present this in terms of SHTF implications rather than it being a political discussion.
In rough terms 80% of the US population is classified as urban, living on 3% of the land. Conversely 20% is deemed rural, living on 97% of the land. All of the population growth (which is primarily driven by immigration rather than natural increase) is in urban areas. Over time the rural population will continue to decline as a % of the total even if it miraculously manages to sustain its current population.
Vermont and Maine are the most rural States as measured in terms of % of the population, the whitest, with the oldest median age, and with the lowest violent crime rate. Rural America as a whole is whiter, older, and less violent than urban populations, and rural America is in decline. Rural America is heavily armed comparatively to urban areas. There is as well a widening cultural gap, certainly driven in part by demographic differences.
Vermont’s population is flat but that is a mix of slow population increase in our one urban area offsetting the slow population decline everywhere else. Since 2000 my Town has lost 11% of its population and the median age has risen. We remain about 99% white with violent crime almost non-existent. We are part of a four Town school district averaging only about 55 to 60 kids per grade in total. That is only half what it used to be. Each Town has its own Elementary school and none are willing to close theirs despite such low enrollment. The result is high property taxes given no economies of scale. In rural areas the school is often the heart of the Town’s identity, thus their being loath to close them. Should SHTF events or just fears trigger a migration from urban to rural areas, the schools could accommodate many more kids within the existing infrastructure and staffing.
In terms of commercial/industrial, success is measured in terms of not losing what we have rather in who can be attracted to some here. Corporate America has no interest in rural areas. 3 years ago the little general store that served my hamlet burned down and was not rebuilt. Now it is a 6 – 7 mile drive to get a gallon of milk. Should SHTF events or just fears trigger a migration from urban to rural areas, there are no jobs for them when they get here. The rising median age is due to more of our young people leaving for employment in urban areas than there are young families moving in.
Since I became a Lister (Assessor in other States) I have seen every property transfer in Town and have visited many properties in response to grievances (requests to reassess their taxable value) and building permits that have been taken out. We have many dead end and private roads that I otherwise would have never had reason to go down had I not been a Lister. In the course of these activities I have come to know the personal circumstances of many people.
On average there is a new house that gets built somewhere in town every year and at least another home that gets a major renovation. Of course there are additions and upgrades here and there too. Conversely I am seeing abandoned homes and occupied homes that are deteriorating badly. Banks sometimes have a hard time selling foreclosures given the condition of the homes. Should SHTF events or just fears trigger a migration from urban to rural areas, there really aren’t any good housing options for them. There are few apartments and the ones we do have are not all that great. Usually they’re an old house that someone chopped up. Perhaps an old barn or garage even that got converted to apartments. In my Lister capacity I just went to see two new apartments made out of what was a large garage. There are not any apartment complexes such as you’d find in an urban/suburban area. There are no housing subdivisions with new construction happening. There are no hotels.
There was a long abandoned house torn down in February. I know of another house slated to be torn down. One was built in 1810, the other in 1845. Yesterday I went out to reassess an large old farmhouse, the core of which dates to 1777. An old farmer lives there. No wife or kids and more importantly poor health and no money. It looks to still be structurally sound but I’d guess another 10 years without major renovation and it too will be a tear down. The dry rot and water damage is accelerating. Tomorrow I will go on a reassessment (all this occurs in a narrow window in March/April each year) of an abandoned house around the corner from me that a professional appraiser for the heirs has deemed a tear down, worth just the value of the land less the cost to tear the house down. Once upon a time it was a grand place. These old farm houses once housed large families. I know of 6 other abandoned homes in town, 4 of which are way past being salvaged. There likely are more. One of them is at the point that the Town would take it for back taxes but the Town is declining to take any action given it is at the tear down stage and the town doesn’t want to incur the expense. In the past year there were 6 or 7 old mobile homes from the 60’s or 70’s torn down and not replaced. In an area with population growth and an upwardly moving economy you would not have these abandoned homes and deteriorating housing stock. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a poverty stricken area. There are several estates in town, more 2nd homes owned by affluent out-of-staters than I realized, and many very nice and well maintained homes. It is just that the declining population and relative lack of good jobs has caused there to be abandoned homes and homes that just deteriorate until they are uninhabitable. I’ve been shocked at some of what I have seen.
The last comment I will make in terms of the potential SHTF event or fear triggered migration from urban to rural areas is that there is no infrastructure in place to support a rapid rise in population. We have no public water or sewers, no police, no senior services, no public transportation, no garbage pickup, no inspectors of any kind. Outside of the schools there are a few guys that take care of the roads, a Transfer Station open 2.5 days a week, a very small library open about 3 days a week, a volunteer fire dept, a Town-owned baseball field, and the baseball field I own. Town Hall only consists of 2 large rooms so no capacity there for anything. There is a long abandoned upstairs to it that is not habitable.
In a nutshell, from where I sit rural America is not in any position to take in an influx from urban/suburban areas even if we inclined to do so, which I don’t think we are. There is food production enough to take care of our own and lots of practical skills out of practice and necessity, but no practical way to take in an influx from afar.April 2, 2016 at 3:51 am #48117
Very depressing. And on a trip down through middle Georgia last summer, that’s what we saw most of the way as well. Where my wife grew up is falling apart with considerable abandonment here as well. And many fields weren’t even planted last year.April 2, 2016 at 3:56 am #48118
Rural America was never the same after the invention of the automobile. And the taxman. But the really big twist was Lying Tv. It made the world an exciting place. The dingy dirty city became glamorous. The farm boys wanted what those big city folks had. Sex drugs and rock&roll. Money for nothing, chicks for free.
As for the reverse migration to the country. What I’ve alway surmised. The first nuke to hit an American city and its happening overnight. Or the first Electromagnet pulse causes one second of damage to thousands of transformers. No one has a plan for anything, it just happens. Freedom of travel or panic. The migrants from Syria to Germany won’t be pushed back after they see the luxury and goods in the stores. The invaders will fight to stay.April 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm #48131
GS, as you note, the slow decline I described here is happening throughout rural America. Here in Vermont it is masked from the casual tourist by the natural splendor of the landscape. They see the nice country properties and the landscape but somehow don’t notice the old trailer that is rotting away but still has a family living in it. Seen or not, the slow decline is real. However, come SHTF rural America has ample resources to get by and is less dependent upon modern infrastructure. We’re just not set up to take in lots of urban folks.April 2, 2016 at 1:26 pm #48132
Everything you noted is probably true of most rural areas in the US. Post SHTF without gasoline and electricity supporting additional urban migrants will be nearly impossible. There are a few areas of the country employing working horses that will maintain crop production. Just how well those groups will fend off the horde remains unclear. I hope to enjoin a few of the more local families with horses near me.April 2, 2016 at 1:39 pm #48133
They think everybody who lives in the country is a farmer MB.
Just to note. Even though I’ve been all over North America and traveled overseas our relatives from NJ always referred to us as “the hicks who live in upstate Ny”.
Until our divorce from the rotten family ended it.
April 4, 2016 at 1:57 am #48164
- This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Brulen.
Sadly, though many in rural America were farmers, the massive mega-farm industry has put so many family farmers out of business. I find that so very sad. There was a work ethic among not only the farmers, but also those that operated the other businesses in town, with a sense of community and mutual support that only happened in certain areas of cities (often an ethnic concentration in a section of a larger city). That whole concept is largely, and sadly gone. One more generation and I suspect it will be virtually unknown in all but tiny pockets of the U.S.
While yours is deteriorating, at least it still exists. It think it kind of metaphorical for the U.S. in the world – despite our deterioration, we’re at least behind most other nations in their own deterioration. So far, we’ve been spared much of the migratory nightmare so many areas in Europe have seen, and we’ve been spared the Zimbabwe-like hyper-inflation, or ethnic “cleansing” that so many nations have seen. We’ve had our own version of it with American Indians, sadly, and sub-groups in American society would be all too happy to see other sub-groups disappear, but at least that’s still very small scale. I’m glad you’ve got what you’ve got up there. I remember what I didn’t fully understand but still sensed and really liked as a kid when our grandparents would take us on trips through New England during summers. I particularly liked Vermont and Maine, and found myself very saddened when I learned of the “death” of the Old Man of the Mountain in NH. Beautiful country, and beautiful culture back then (about 60 years ago, unfortunately).April 4, 2016 at 12:10 pm #48167
Yes GS, when the Old Man fell it was a blow to the psyche in much of New England.
New England is fortunate in a way in that the topography didn’t lend itself to large farms with endless fields. Throw in rocky soil in most places and it was just never conducive to corporate farming. Our farms are still family operations. What passes for a huge farm here is measured in hundreds of acres, not thousands. Most farms are less than a hundred acres yet they used to support large families. Traditional farms split the land between pastures for dairy cows, hay fields, corn fields, and woodlands for sugaring and the associated fuel needed for sugaring. Small scale dairying is but a shadow of its former self because they cannot compete with corporate mega farms in the Upper Midwest. The trend towards “Buy Local” and organic foods has helped keep many farms alive. What I am seeing pop up all over the place are what I call hobby farms. They represent supplemental income and lifestyle choices and will most typically have a few beef cattle and some chickens. Some have sheep, goats, ducks, rabbits etc. Larger acreages with excess woodlands will periodically do some logging for extra income. Cheese making was a traditional part of farming here and we’re seeing a lot more of that pop up too, and of course sugaring is everywhere.
The guy that hays my field has what I term a hobby farm. He raises goats, chickens, and ducks plus they make cheese and have a greenhouse. He’s only got 7 acres which he uses very well but there is no room for a hay field, thus he uses mine. He works as a contractor plus he and his wife will work at one of the nearby ski resorts in the winter. The farmer that pastures sheep on my land is a retired school teacher.
And Brulen is right, urban folks may think everyone’s a farmer in the countryside but the reality is that only a small percentage are. Even then most farms have other sources of income.
For me, though I know the area is in a slow decline, I love living in my little bubble that the modern world has not fully infiltrated. Being retired I don’t need to make a living though I do have 3 part time jobs by choice. I also know that I have sunk way more money into my property than I could possibly get out but I don’t really care. I already told my kids their only hope after we’re gone of recovering what we put into it is to package it as a 2nd home for someone from Metro NYC. There is no local market for it.April 4, 2016 at 5:05 pm #48171
As a lister I have a rather short question for you. Would you say farmland is worth at least $2500 an acre. That that would be a minimum price almost anywhere in the north east. You know given its been farmed worked and not a hobby farm. Say in 50 acre fields. I’ve seen people place their farms in a land trust and then buyers come along and low ball them. But I think farm land is worth more money especially if it has a wood lot attached these days. Wood is quite valuable in tree farms. The competition to find good land for hunting farming and other recreation use is jacking the price up instead of lowering it.
April 4, 2016 at 6:40 pm #48173
- This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Brulen.
Brulen, there haven’t been any farms sold here of late so I don’t have any specific local data but I imagine you’re not going to find 50 acre working fields for under $2,500 an acre anywhere in the Northeast. Real estate value is always a local phenomenon but I’d say the key variable is the extent to which there is development pressure. If developers are lurking around to scoop up farms that come on the market so as to turn them into housing subdivisions, the prices are going to be high. That was the case where I used to live in Western MA and building lots went for $100,000 – $200,000 each. I was on the Board of a Land Trust there and we saw the State paying $8,000 – $20,000 an acre for the development rights so as to keep the land in agriculture due to that development pressure. In New England and NY local conditions can also get skewed by the extent to which affluent folks from Metro NYC are willing to scoop up acreage for their 2nd homes.
Conversely, where I live now there is no development pressure at all and acreage sells for more than $2,500 an acre. A 50 acre working field at $2,500 an acre would sell the day it hit the market.April 5, 2016 at 1:33 am #48174
Thanks MB. Trying to figure out land prices is hard especially for large farms held in families for the long term. Comparing them to places where there is no development pressure is what I was looking for. My thinking was $2500 acre is cheap. Almost like giving it away.August 20, 2016 at 9:42 am #49779
in Britain as in the US 80% of the population lives in cities or Urban centres.
most people are 4 generations removed from the land, and have no idea where their food comes from (Duh!! the supermarket ??) and even in some cases what animal (well its just a lump of meat in a plastic wrapper, isn’t it?).
British Survivalist.March 30, 2017 at 12:33 pm #51604
An update to this discussion about rural decline. I recently came across a historical survey of my town that the State did in 1976. It seems to have included most of our historical homes, farms, and such. I was shocked by some of the photos. I saw some homes that were in great shape & occupied at 100 to 200 years old that are now in rough shape & empty 40 years later, at least a few of which the owners are now considering tearing them down. Same with antique barns and even two now-abandoned churches. This is a combination of slow population decline, a less robust economy, and a generally tough environment for small farms struggling to survive. There’s no money left for maintenance of old structures, and little demand for old homes in need of significant maintenance and updating.March 30, 2017 at 1:28 pm #51606
Very sad. I suspect that only older folks, for the most part, really care. And they’re often not in a position to fund upkeep or renovation. Younger people just see buildings as “things,” and don’t think twice about tearing them down. Older people tend to get more nostalgic as time goes on, perhaps using those older “things” as a reminder of what once was. We justify such thinking by saying things were better “back then,” and we need to keep the memories alive. And of course we’re right. But seriously, I really do find it a shame that things were so much better built, there was pride in things that people owned, and some of those things helped keep us “grounded.” Today, there’s little sense of community in most areas, families disperse and rarely get together, and commercialization has taken over to an extent that it would seem almost impossible to bring back “the way it was.” Even communication between human beings has been reduced to 140 characters, and “news” consists of 5-second sound bytes in the form of a leading, rhetorical question. And we wonder what’s wrong ….March 30, 2017 at 3:09 pm #51615
With maintenance costs skyrocketing and finding skilled labor, normal upkeep is a thing of the past. The distant past.
Then there’s the code issues.
Not one of these older homes is easy to refit to code, which one has to do, anytime repairs are done by a contractor.
When the cost of repairs outweighs the cost of the place, this is often the result.
Around ten years ago my parents, getting ready for retirement had a hard look at moving or fixing. The 1880’s farmhouse that was the core of the house was still strong enough, but the foundation, stacked limestone sans mortar was crumbling and collapsing.
A quick cost analysis and the decision to stay was easy. They had the house jacked up, a proper basement poured, new heater, water heater, etc., all installed. At the same time, the old kitchen and porches were scraped off and a new addition added.
For four times the original cost of the house, they have a place where they can stay for the duration. And still at a third the cost or less of a comparable place total.
Times get tough, people should take advantage of that, everyone needs to eat, pay bills, etc.
Better to make $10 an hour than nothing.
Make the plumber, roofer, carpenter an offer.
Trade work when you can.
We had the roof replaced with tin at our last house. Because we caught the contractor right before Christmas and he was looking at the bills coming up during his slow season, we got his labor at half price. Granted we had to wait nearly a month and a half for the snow to melt, but he fixed what another roofer had messed up repeatedly. At half price.
I have long planned that when I have the opportunity to pick up one of these places, where the ‘skeleton’ is still good but the outside is rough, it will become a vacation/shtf location in the works.
I think back to one I missed by two years. Perfect location, huge house, a tree fell through part of the roof. The price was right, before the long wait occurred But between the tarp ‘patch’ that only lasted a week and the absent owner not deciding to sell the place until the local kids had gutted it, the place was beyond repair.
Last I heard, it was burned down and they got nothing out of it.
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