Dengler Domain: Population

As I reflect on my grandmother’s life – born in 1923 – it got me thinking how much the world has changed. She experienced a world war, the farm crisis, and the internet coming of age. In light of the recent election, I also thought about how many U.S. House of Representatives members Iowa has sent to Congress. When I looked up the 1922 election, it was 11!!! In 2022, one hundred years later, Iowa sent four. Potentially, after the 2030 election, it may be three. What went wrong?

Iowa cannot thrive without more people in rural and urban Iowa. Capitalism depends on consumption and when there are not enough people consuming, the economy stagnates. Iowa needs to diversify its economy in the ag sector and across the board. With the continuing mechanization of agriculture and consolidation of farmers, only a few can continue to play in the ballgame going forward. With autonomous farming on the horizon, it will only further precipitate the need for less agriculture workers in rural Iowa. Supporting the growth of unconventional products in the Iowa ag economy and building out distinct parts of the Iowa economy will help those in rural and urban Iowa.

This cannot be done by the market itself. If it could, the population crisis may not have happened. While Republicans swept the state elections, they have a big challenge. They need to retain and recruit people to the state of Iowa to grow our rural communities and urban centers. I am not reporting anything new, but young people leave the state in droves. Lots of people I knew from my college years and young professional years have left the state at the first chance they got. Iowans educate well but the students leave. The jobs are not here for our well-educated individuals. Bringing jobs throughout the state to retain our educated workforce is something the folks at the statehouse better figure out a plan for, while not forgetting those for whom college was not the best path. Iowa needs to make stuff in Iowa. Bring home manufacturing jobs. It is never fun driving by the remnants of Traer Manufacturing.

On a related front, in the past, the Republican Party of Iowa has led the way on immigration. Former Gov. Robert Ray brought in Southeast Asian Ta Dam refugees in the last 1970s. While the Republican Party’s stance may have changed over the years, they should rethink it to help mitigate this population crisis. Immigrants can help grow and sustain rural Iowa schools.

They do not have to go far to think about it. In fact, go to Storm Lake. This past weekend I told a few jokes in this diverse town. It was cool to look out in the audience and see people laughing from Hispanic, African, and Asian descents, in addition to what most think rural Iowa looks like. The meatpacking plants in town have brought this diversity to town, and this diversity has maintained the town’s growth and even grown it through the years. While I was not a fan of the couple of times I caught a smell of the meatpacking plants, the different restaurants and storefronts added wonderful character to this small city.

Iowa needs to attract people to our state or keep our children in this state. For Iowa to be the best, it needs to grow. The state legislature should entice companies to come to our state with real jobs, not just warehouses or low paying jobs. There need to be jobs to retain our well-educated children. Iowa needs to take advantage of the 21st Century economy and not play keep up. If Iowa does not, the state of Iowa and specifically rural Iowa will be a vast amount of land with no one living on it.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.com.