Pa Lawmakers Listen to Workforce, Population Concerns in Rural Communities

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) – This week, Pennsylvania lawmakers heard about workforce challenges in rural communities. The Senate Majority Policy Committee hosted a hearing to discuss those challenges and explore potential solutions. 

Rural Pennsylvania is vast, with nearly 3.4 million residents who call it home. 
“Just think about the economic activity, the amount of people living, working, engaging in a wide range of activities. Rural is a powerhouse in Pennsylvania, and it certainly has great implications for the entire country,” said Kyle Kopko, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 
However, population trends are concerning for the rural workforce. 
“There has been a consistent decline in the rural workforce, even predating COVID, going back to 2012,” said Kopko, adding that rural populations are aging. “We have a population becoming older and there’s fewer young people. The death rate has outpaced the birth rate. That results in a changing character of our rural population,” Kopko added.

Between 2010 and 2020, rural Pennsylvania communities saw a decline of roughly 85,000 residents. By the end of this decade, Kopko says 47 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will have more senior citizens- individuals 65 or older- than young people under the age of 20.  

But there’s another problem besides population trends: rural poverty. 
“A lot of people that are trapped in poverty are trapped in poverty because of the policies that we’ve enacted, both federally and on the state level,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie). “I think we need to take a really hard look at how to make that ramp smooth, so it’s always better to go to work, but we still have your back, if you can’t, or if you lose your job,” Laughlin added. 
Laughlin is the Chairman of the Senate Majority Policy Committee. He says rural communities and workers cannot be left behind. 

“People living in rural Pennsylvania choose to do so, despite the challenges, they are dedicated to their home and family and deserve the same dedication to efforts to improve their communities and lifestyle,” said Laughlin. 

Kopko remains optimistic and says rural Pennsylvania has a lot to offer for younger adults. 

“First of all, I’m optimistic about rural Pennsylvania’s future. I think that we have a lot to offer. We have charming towns, wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities, a great lifestyle, affordable cost of living,” said Kopko.  
During the hearing in Williamsport on Weds., Kopko was asked what rural communities can do to attract and retain younger residents. His response was simple: it’s time to spread the word. 
“I think there has to be some outreach. There also has to be some opportunity to show that we would welcome new residents, that they can be valued, that they can be integrated within the community,” said Kopko. “We have all the building blocks in place to make rural Pennsylvania a magnet for a lot of these locales. I think it’s just a matter of communicating that effectively,” he added. 

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