Between April 2010 and July 2012, nonmetro counties as a whole declined in population, most likely for the first time. Even if temporary, this small but historic shift highlights a growing demographic challenge facing many regions across rural and small-town America, as population growth from natural change (births minus deaths) is no longer large enough to counter net migration losses when they occur. Nonmetro population growth from net migration peaked in 2006, then declined precipitously and shifted geographically in response to rising unemployment, housing-market challenges, energy sector developments, and other factors. Historically, suburban expansion and migration to scenic, retirement-recreation destinations have been primary drivers of rural demographic change, but for the time being at least, their influence has considerably weakened.
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