Advisory Board Member, West Coast Poverty Center
Professor, Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Oregon State University
Co-Director, RUPRI Rural Poverty Research Center
Rural Studies Program Director, Oregon State University
West Coast Poverty Center Advisory Board Member Bruce A. Weber is professor of agricultural and resource economics and extension economist, director of the Rural Studies Program, and co-director of the RUPRI Rural Poverty Research Center. He is also a Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association, Distinguished Scholar at the Western Agricultural Economics Association, and Senior Research Affiliate of the National Poverty Center.
Professor Weber’s current research projects focus on the causes of poverty and hunger in rural areas, particularly on the interaction of community characteristics, public policy and household economic outcomes for low-income people. He recently presented his work on the influence of local economic conditions on rural-urban migration and poverty as a part of the ‘07-‘08 WCPC Seminar series (. WCPC had the opportunity to ask Professor Weber about his thoughts on his work “Education’s Effect on Poverty: The Roles of Migration and Labor Markets” which is highlighted in )WCPC Poverty Research Flash 2008-07. The full article appeared in the Rural Studies Program Working Paper Series RSP 07-01, April 2007.
WCPC: How did you become interested in how an individual's level of education affects their choice to move (or not to move) from rural to urban areas?
Weber: I spend a good deal of time interacting with people who live in and care about rural communities. Almost every rural community I know is concerned about “brain drain”, the movement of young people out of the community for additional education and training and then the lack of opportunity for them to return to rural places to use the additional training they have obtained.
I also interact with many who believe that we shouldn’t try to invest in rural places to reduce rural poverty but should instead encourage poor people in rural places to move to urban areas for better opportunities.
These interactions made me curious about the relationships between education, migration and poverty.
WCPC: What was the most significant finding to you?
Weber: It was no surprise, of course, that those with more education are both more likely to move and less likely to be poor. The most significant finding for me was that migration per se is not a way out of poverty. Much of the prior research had suggested that migration is a good personal and public strategy for reducing poverty. I believe our results suggest that the focus should be on education. More formal education does indeed encourage rural people to move to cities, but it also appears to protect them from being poor, whether they move or not.
WCPC: What questions does this raise for further research?
Weber: There is a lot we don’t know about migration of low-income families and their strategies for improving incomes. Longitudinal data allows us to learn about the ways that multiple moves over the life course are related to economic well-being. We also have not done a very good job in sorting out the complex links between household poverty, “place” – one’s social and economic context – and public policy. There is much to learn about how local context affects household decisions, and how anti-poverty policies work out differently in different contexts, and how improving local conditions might reduce poverty.
WCPC: What implications does this study have for policy makers?
Weber: As noted before, this study suggests the value of additional education for rural youth, so that they can increase their income-earning power, wherever they eventually decide to live.
WCPC: You base this work on information from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID). What was appealing about working with this data set for this research?
Weber: The PSID is an attractive dataset for research on poverty, policy and place because it provides rich personal longitudinal data, and because household files are geo-referenced so that they can be linked to other data sources that provide information about the social and economic context in which households make their decisions.