The influx of transplants from urban living to rural areas during the pandemic has been well documented, as the lure of a cheaper cost of living and wide open spaces vs. the prospect of riding out lockdowns in a $5,000 / month postage stamp was no brainer for many.
And so for the first time in three decades, rural America's population has outgrown that of urban areas, driven by remote work, affordability and lifestyle changes. Tech-savvy Californians have led this great migration. Driven by exorbitant living costs and an ever-intrusive (and tax-thirsty) state government, they are fleeing the Golden State for places like Montana. However, this movement is sparking backlash from longtime residents, with bumper stickers saying, "Don’t California my Montana," highlighting the growing resentment.
The result? Rural America is booming - yet, underneath the surface problems are beginning to emerge - most notably resent among longtime locals over now-prohibitively expensive real estate prices, and a growing strain on infrastructures around the country.
The trend is sparking resentment as house prices in the top 10 rural counties that have seen the biggest population increases surging more than 40% over the past three years. Schools are overloaded and the shift is even impacting farmland prices. -Bloomberg
Farmland prices are also at record highs, driven by higher commodity prices and inflation hedging.
"There’s a lot of resentment," said Maggie Doherty, a writer and columnist living in Flathead County, Montana. "There’s bumper stickers that say ‘Montana’s full’ or ‘Don’t California my Montana.’" she told Bloomberg.
Tech-savvy Californians are leading this great migration. Driven by exorbitant living costs and an ever-intrusive (and tax-thirsty) state government, they are fleeing the Golden State for places like Montana. However, this movement is sparking backlash from longtime residents, with bumper stickers saying, "Don’t California my Montana," highlighting the growing resentment.
In Jackson County, Georgia, finding affordable homes is now near impossible - as prices rose 50% in the first half of this year vs. three years earlier, according to Zillow. Thanks to Jackson's proximity to Atlanta, the county has attracted a flood of hybrid workers.
"There’s been a lot of battles politically over building and where to build," said Jackson County Democratic head Pete Fuller. "There are organized groups that do not want affordable housing being built."
Rents are also surging. In the past two years, according to Zillow, Harnett County and Moore County in North Carolina, Gallatin County in Montana, and Iron County in Utah have all seen rent increases between 13% to 24%, Bloomberg reports.
"Rent is completely through the roof," said Tennessee resident Wendy Cerne. "There are a lot of new people that have moved into the region and I’ve experienced that first hand."
As noted above, the price of farmland has never been this high either.
"Anything that helps broaden and deepen what I would call the opportunity set for off-farm income is good for producers, which is a good underpinning for land prices," said Tom Halverson, CEO of rural lender CoBank ACB.
"The states in the South and East have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of this population movement," he said. "They also are the parts of the agricultural production complex in this country that that are most reliant on off-farm income. So there’s an interesting correlation dynamic there."
No Affordable Retirement in California
Bob Ficken, a retiree from California, encapsulates the dilemma: "Retiring in California is near impossible. The state ends up taking between 25% and 30% of everything you make." This situation, coupled with deteriorating cityscapes in urban areas, is fueling the rush towards rural America.
Political Fault Lines
The demographic shifts are also exacerbating existing political divides. As newcomers bring along their political preferences, battleground states like Georgia and North Carolina become even more unpredictable, adding a layer of complexity to the 2024 presidential election calculus.
The migration has the potential to change voting patterns in both the places people are leaving and the ones they’re going to, adding an additional layer of unpredictability in battleground states like Georgia and North Carolina in the 2024 presidential election. -Bloomberg
And lastly, aging infrastructures are being tested like never before.
"You see huge issues with infrastructure as well with roads, roads that were not meant to handle truck traffic a lot of times are breaking down," said Fuller, adding "There’s been two new high schools built here in the last couple years just to accommodate growth."