Rural ecosystem service transition

Rich people moving to attractive rural areas are transforming the economy of those areas from resource extraction to an experience economy (see also Inequality and an ecosystem service transition). A Wall Street Journal article The New American Gentry (Jan 19th) describes this trend, and includes a large map that highlights areas that have experienced large increases in people who live off investment income rather than salaries. These areas include parts of the inland west, N Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, the New England.

Affluent retirees and other high-income types have descended on these remote areas, creating new demand for amenities like interior-design stores, spas and organic markets. … With the Internet allowing people to work from almost anywhere, the distinction between first and second homes has become blurred. Many people are buying retirement property while they’re still employed. Millions of soon-to-retire baby boomers, say demographers, will propel this trend for years to come.”What we’re seeing is a class colonization,” says Peter Nelson, an associate professor of geography at Middlebury College and an expert on rural migration. “It really represents a shift in the nature of the economy from a resource-extraction economy to an aesthetic-based economy.”

Rural America makes up about three-quarters of the nation’s land mass, but has just 17% of the population, about 50 million people. Many mining towns and Great Plains’ farming communities have stagnating or shrinking populations while more scenic communities are soaking up new residents.

One indicator of rural gentrification: An increase in residents’ total dividend, interest and rent income. That measurement, tracked by the Commerce Department, is a sign that new residents — usually retirees — are living off their investments rather than salaries. In Teton County, Wyo., home of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, total dividend, interest and rent income has risen 177% between 1996 and 2005, one of the largest increases in rural America.

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