Is remote working the key to easing the outmigration of young workers on the Eastern Shore? According to an editorial by Dwyane Yancy, editor of Cardinal News, one opportunity for rural counties to obtain or retain workers going forward could be attracting those who want to enjoy living and working in a rural atmosphere.
Yancy cites a study by Hamilton Lombard, a demographer for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, at the University of Virginia. Lombard compares the wide per household income disparities in Virginia as a key factor in rural counties losing workers to the more affluent areas around cities and in Northern Virginia.
According to the article, the per household income in Loudon County near Washington DC is $142,000 compared with $28,000 in Southwest Virginia.
The article mentions Northampton County, pointing out that the County is 4th in the state at percentage of its workforce working remotely at 8.7%. The only counties with higher rates in the 2019 study are Nelson, Westmoreland and Charlotte.
Applying Lombard’s analysis locally, the total population in the 2020 census for Accomack County was 33,316, which was up slightly over the 2010 census. Northampton’s population dropped to 12,282 in the 2020 census. According to the 2020 census, Accomack County has a median household income or $46,073 but Northampton’s is a little higher at $47,277.
While the fears of rapid growth stemming from the proliferation of planned unit developments over the last 20 years has been largely unfounded, there are individuals who can come to our communities and do their jobs online while enjoying the Eastern Shore lifestyle.
Interestingly enough, Northampton leads in the percentage of households with broadband access at 72.3%, while Accomack comes in at 68.5%. The problem is that many of the waterfront locations that are most attractive also are the most difficult to reach with broadband.
The article also includes a map which shows that the Cheaspeake Bay area is more attractive to at home workers. In Northampton, home workers currently comprise more than 8% of the work force with 6% in Accomack County. Percentage wise, Northampton is among the top counties in the state.
While agriculture, tourism, seafood and Wallops may continue to be the major economic drivers here, remote workers could become a larger component of the workforce moving forward. This could give individuals that have left the Shore for more opportunities, the option to come home along with others who simply want to live here.