Photo: Driving across America's heartland.

According to Saint Joseph's University sociologist Maria Kefalas, Ph.D., the heartland of America's greatest export is no longer corn and wheat, but rather its young and talented people.

With one out of every five Americans still living in non-metropolitan areas, and considering that those areas now face natural decline with more deaths than births, the problem of the youth exodus from rural America is one that simply cannot be ignored.

"The nation's food supply is undeniably linked to the region, as is the election of its presidents," says Kefalas. "Not to mention that rural America sends more of its young men and women to the military than any other region."

Kefalas is the co-author of a newly released book, Hollowing out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America published by Beacon Press, the research for which was funded by the MacArthur Foundation's Transitions to Adulthood study in 2001. Kefalas and her co-author Patrick Carr, Ph.D., traveled to "Ellis," Iowa (Ellis is a pseudonym), where they conducted interviews with young people five and 10 years out of college, as well as with local school, business and government personnel.

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