‘Too Many Old People’: A Rural Pennsylvania Town Reckons with Population Loss

From the Washington Post

Lee Goldthwaite might have the most stable job in this remote corner of northwestern Pennsylvania.

The caretaker of Sheffield Cemetery is busier than ever directing crews clearing trees to make space for more graves as deaths dramatically outpace births here and in other vast stretches of rural America. Each time he buries a newly deceased resident he wonders how the town that once drew scores of young families will survive.

“We already lost our bank,” Goldthwaite said as he took a break from trimming the grass around headstones. “We lost our liquor store, and we may be about to lose our high school.”

Across rural Pennsylvania, there is a deepening sense of fear about the future as population loss accelerates. The sharp decline has put the state at the forefront of a national discussion on the viability of the small towns that have long been a pillar of American culture.

America’s rural population began contracting about a decade ago, according to statistics drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A whopping 81 percent of rural counties had more deaths than births between 2019 and 2023, according to an analysis by a University of New Hampshire demographer. Experts who study the phenomena say the shrinking baby boomer population and younger residents having smaller families and moving elsewhere for jobs are fueling the trend.

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