"We're not in Kansas Anymore, Toto" (But We Should Be)

Steven Mosher
By Elizabeth Crnkovich
Population Research Institute
Weekly Briefing
15 January 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Depopulation is a big problem in farm states like Kansas. As America's population shifts to the coasts and to the big cities, the countryside is emptying out. What can a state do to stop this hemorrhaging of people, which leads to dying towns and a stagnant rural economy? Well, the easiest thing to do is give them a reason to move back. This is exactly what Kansas is doing through its "Rural Opportunity Zones," a program which Governor Sam Brownback signed into law in July, 2011.

The law "designates 50 counties in Kansas as Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ), provides ... a 100 percent state income tax waiver for up to five years and repayment of up to $3,000 per year ($15,000 maximum) in outstanding student loans" to those who move there.

Anyone, whether they already live in Kansas or not, can apply for the student loan repayment once they relocate to a ROZ, as long as they have a college degree from an accredited institution. Under the terms of the loan repayment program, the State of Kansas will pay up to 20 percent (but no more than $3,000) of an outstanding student loan each year for five years.

The income tax waiver is more restrictive. You must have lived out of state for at least five years prior to moving to a ROZ to be eligible. Kansas City, Kansas, residents need not apply. The state will not be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

How successful have these incentives been in drawing people back into rural Kansas? Since The ROZ program went into effect in January, 2012, hundreds have applied for its benefits.

This is a good start, but thousands - if not tens of thousands @ of in-migrants will be needed to fill the void left by those departing. In Decatur County, for example, the population was 4,021 in 1990. It dropped down to 3,472 in 2000. It is now 2,915. In Mitchell County, the population dropped from 7,203 in 1990 down to 6,295 in 2011. Likewise Trego County's population fell from 3,694 in 1990 to 2,930 in 2011.

This kind of monetary incentive is a good way to boost a declining population in a specific region. But another major factor contributing to the decline is a low birth rate. Even if a young couple is induced by the ROZ incentives to move into a dying county, their presence will have limited impact unless they go on to have children.

While the student loan repayment and the state income tax holiday are a good start, couples should also be encouraged to have more children. One way to do this would be to offer baby bonuses or a higher deduction for dependents to those living in a ROZ.

In addition, steps could be taken to lower the abortion rate by protecting the right to life of the unborn. After all, the unborn do not need to migrate to Kansas from other states; they are already living in Kansas. Society needs to welcome the next generation into its midst by affording them all the rights and protections of citizens from the moment of conception.

Subsidizing the abortion industry with tax dollars is tantamount to funding a depopulation program. Not one penny from Kansas taxpayers should be handed over to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Doing so will only make the state's population crisis that much worse.

Instead, programs that promote healthy families and support women in crisis pregnancies should be generously funded. If all of the children conceived in Kansas could live to see the light of day, that would go a long way towards eliminating the state's population deficit.

Kansas is leading the way in dealing with its depopulation problem. Let other states follow.