The number of people living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties stood at 46.2 million in 2013—nearly 15 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro areas lost population between July 2012 and 2013, continuing a three-year trend. While hundreds of individual counties have lost population over the years, this is the first period of overall population decline in nonmetro America. ERS tracks demographic change in nonmetro areas and conducts research to help explain the relationship between population change and the socioeconomic well-being of rural and small-town residents.
- Estimated population loss in nonmetro areas between July 2012 and 2013 was quite small (around 28,000 people) and marks an improvement over the previous year (July 2011-July 2012) when nonmetro population loss was about 47,500 people.
- Population change is very uneven across rural and small-town America. Over 1,200 nonmetro counties have lost population since 2010, as a group declining by nearly 400,000 people. At the same time, just over 700 nonmetro counties gained population, together adding over 300,000 residents (see map).
- 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. Suburban expansion and migration to scenic, retirement-recreation destinations have been primary drivers of rural demographic change for several decades, but for the time being at least, their influence has considerably weakened.
- Population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been significantly lower than in metro areas since the mid-1990s and the gap widened considerably in recent years. While annual rates of population change in nonmetro areas fell from 0.7 percent to below zero between 2006 and 2013, metro rates fell only slightly, from 1 percent to 0.9 percent.