Opinion & Editorial

Rural refugees: We’re witnessing the loss of jobs, homes, communities

CRESWELL – On May Day, International Workers Day, this year I was traveling by automobile to Iowa. Much of the route was on secondary, two-lane roads. 

Beginning in Eastern Oregon I began to notice stretches of abandoned homes and small towns in poor condition with empty storefronts, no grocery store or service station, although there was always a bar. These observations continued all the way to North Central Iowa.

One could also periodically see new, extremely large, architect-designed farm or ranch “mansions” along the rural route. In one small Iowa town of 500 people, four empty homes have been demolished in the past year. 

Abandoned rural homes are not a new observation for me. 

While a student at the University of Idaho in the 1960s, I explored rural gravel roads surrounding the town of Moscow on my bicycle. There were dozens of large abandoned formerly stately Victorian homes scattered across the Palouse. 

Those homes were left empty by the wheat farm consolidations occurring for at least a decade. 

What happened to people forced to leave their rural homes, towns and lifestyles? How many are now maladjusted and homeless? 

I hypothesize homes and towns have emptied due to automation, farm consolidation, more reliable equipment, higher speed limits on roadways (65 to 80 mph), and big-box stores in regional towns.

As a society we have promoted automation, consolidation, faster roadways, higher speed limits, and big-box stores for the enrichment and convenience of a few. 

We should provide compassion, housing and retraining for our rural refugees.

Ed Gunderson is a Creswell resident and regular contributor to The Chronicle.



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