ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick 2018: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Employment has grown faster in metropolitan than nonmetro counties since the Great Recession

Monday, November 18, 2019

Employment in both nonmetro and metro counties fell by 5 percent between the end of 2007 and the end of 2009, reflecting the effects of the Great Recession. Since then, however, employment growth in rural areas has fallen behind metro employment growth. Between 2010 and 2018, nonmetro employment grew at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent, compared to 1.5 percent per year in metro areas. By the second quarter of 2019, nonmetro employment still remained more than 1 percent below the pre-recession level, while metro employment exceeded the pre-recession level by more than 9 percent. These differences in employment growth rates between nonmetro and metro areas may be related in part to differences in population growth. The slowest employment growth occurred in the same areas that had negative population growth—i.e., nonmetro counties with an urban population of less than 20,000. Employment growth since 2010 was faster than population growth in all groups of counties, indicating that a rising share of the population was employed. This chart appears in the November 2019 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2019 Edition.

Rural population gains among Native Americans and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks

Friday, July 19, 2019

Rural America, with racial/ethnic minorities making up 22 percent of the population in 2016-17, has continued to diversify, but at a slower rate compared to 2012-13. The annual rate of population loss among rural Whites fell from -0.44 to -0.20 percent between 2012-13 and 2016-17. This change is likely due to changes in net migration, with fewer Whites moving out and more moving into rural areas in 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. The rural Black population continued to lose population in 2016-17 as well, but at a higher rate of loss than earlier (-0.20 versus -0.14 percent in 2012-13). Population gains among American Indians and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks. American Indians increased their rural population throughout the period but at diminishing rates, while the Hispanic rate of growth remained near 2 percent per year throughout the period. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for just 9 percent of the rural population in 2017 (compared to 80 percent for Whites). This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Racial and ethnic minorities made up 22 percent of the rural population in 2017 compared to 42 percent in urban areas

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2017, Whites accounted for nearly 80 percent of the rural population (compared to 58 percent in urban areas). While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they account for only 9 percent of the rural population (20 percent in urban areas). Blacks made up 8 percent of the rural population (13 percent in urban areas). American Indians were the only minority group with a higher rural (2 percent) than urban share (0.5 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 1 and 0.1 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 1.8 percent of the rural population. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Improving rural net migration rates were most common in recreation and retirement destinations

Friday, March 8, 2019

People moving to rural areas tend to favor more densely settled areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Over 1,100 rural counties (58 percent) showed positive changes in net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants) between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are often located in recreation and retirement destinations attractive to newcomers—such as the Upper Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest, the southern Appalachians, Florida, and the Hill Country of central Texas. Nearly 500 of these counties switched from net outmigration in 2012–13 to net inmigration in 2016–17. Fewer people are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas. Despite increasing net migration generally, 42 percent of rural counties experienced a decrease in net migration between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are in low-density, remote areas in the Nation’s Heartland, in Appalachia from eastern Kentucky to Maine, and in high-poverty areas in the Southeast and border areas of the Southwest. Some of these areas have suffered job losses related to lower oil and gas production. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

In 2016-17, the rural population increased for the first time this decade, due to lower population loss from net migration

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The decline in U.S. rural population, which began in 2010, has reversed for the first time this decade. In 2016-17, the rural population increased by 0.1 percent (adding 33,000 people). This recent upturn in rural population growth stems from increasing rates of net migration, which includes urban-to-rural migration as well as immigration from foreign countries. Rural net migration increased from −0.25 percent in 2011-12 to essentially zero in 2016-17. During the same period, population growth from natural change (births minus deaths) dropped from 0.12 percent to 0.08 percent. This continues a long-term downward trend in growth rates from natural change due to lower fertility rates, an aging population, and, more recently, increasing mortality rates for some age groups. While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. With growth from natural change projected to continue falling, future population growth in rural America will depend more on increasing net migration—which has coincided with declining rural unemployment, rising incomes, and declining poverty since 2013. These improved labor market conditions have allowed rural areas to retain more residents and attract more newcomers. The total rural population has remained close to 46.1 million since 2013. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Rural America ends first-ever period of population loss

Monday, April 2, 2018

Between July 2016 and July 2017, rural (nonmetro) counties increased in population for the first time this decade, according to the most recent estimates released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau. The shift in rural population change was quite small, from a loss of 15,000 people in 2015-16 to a gain of 33,000 in 2016-17. However, it continues an upward trend in all but one year since 2011-12, when rural counties declined by 61,000 people. Population growth rates for rural areas have been significantly lower than in urban (metro) areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably after the housing-market crisis in 2007 and the Great Recession that followed. The gap between rural and urban growth rates has narrowed slightly in recent years, but remains significant. Urban areas grew by 0.82 percent in 2016-17, compared with 0.07 percent growth in rural areas. The recovery in population growth for rural America during this decade has been much more gradual compared with previous rural population downturns. This chart updates data found in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Rural poverty is regionally concentrated, and expanded since the Great Recession to 71 new high-poverty counties

Monday, January 29, 2018

Rural poverty is regionally entrenched, especially in the South where nearly 22 percent of rural (nonmetro) residents live in families with below-poverty incomes. Rural poverty is also entrenched in parts of the Southwest and northern Great Plains. Over 300 rural counties (15 percent of all rural counties) are persistently poor, compared with just 50 urban counties (4 percent of all urban counties). Many of these counties are not entirely poor, but rather contain multiple and diverse pockets of poverty and affluence. Rural poverty rates rose during the Great Recession and in initial post-recession years. Persistent poverty is currently measured from 1980 to 2007-11, which captures the effects of the Great Recession (2007-09). More recent data identifies 71 new high-poverty rural counties in 2011-15 that were not high poverty at any point from 1980 to 2007-11. Most of these new high-poverty counties were outside current persistent regions, including northern California and counties in the Southeast and Midwest that were affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs during the Great Recession. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

About half of rural counties now experiencing more deaths than births

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Declining birth rates, increasing mortality rates among working-age adults, and an aging population have led to the emergence of natural decrease (more deaths than births) in hundreds of U.S. counties—most of them rural counties. During 2010-16, 325 rural counties experienced sustained natural decrease for the first time, adding to 645 rural counties with natural decrease during 2000-09. Areas that recently began experiencing natural decrease (the dark blue areas) are found in New England, northern Michigan, and high-poverty areas in the southern Coastal Plains. Such counties also are found in and around the margins of Appalachia, expanding a large region of natural decrease extending from Maine through northern Alabama. Between 2000 and 2016, over a thousand rural counties still experienced population growth from natural increase (more births than deaths). This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Mortality rates have increased for working-age rural adults since 2000

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Increased mortality among working-age adults in rural (nonmetro) counties is a recent and unanticipated trend contributing to rural population decline. In the aggregate, rural mortality rates declined for all ages combined, from an average annual rate of 815 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999-2001 to 785 deaths in 2013-15. During that same period, rural mortality increased more than 20 percent for 25- to 29-year-olds, from 135 to 165 deaths per 100,000 people. Mortality rates also increased for rural adults between the ages of 20-24 and 30-54. In urban (metro) areas, increased mortality during the period was limited to adults ages 20 to 29. Rising rates of prescription medication abuse, especially of opioids, and the related rise in heroin-overdose deaths are contributing to this unprecedented rise in age-specific mortality rates after a century or more of steady declines. This trend, if it continues, will not only lower rural population but will also increase the dependency ratio: the number of people likely to not be working (children and retirees) relative to the number of working-age adults. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

Rural veteran population continues to decline despite rise in post-9/11 veterans

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Over the last 10 years, the rural veteran population that served during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (known as post-9/11 veterans) more than doubled—rising from just under 200,000 in 2006 to over 400,000 in 2016. During the same period, their share of the total rural veteran population grew from about 4 to 13 percent. Despite that growth, the rural veteran population continued its trend of long-term decline, which has accelerated in recent years. This is likely due to the aging of the rural veteran population, the majority of whom last served during the Vietnam War (38 percent of all rural veterans in 2016). Between 2006 and 2016, the pre-9/11 rural veteran population decreased by 1.4 million (33 percent). That means that, even after accounting for the growth in the post-9/11 veteran cohort, the total rural veteran population shrank by 1.1 million people (about 26 percent). Given the relative size of the veteran population that served in prior conflicts—87 percent of nearly 3.2 million rural veterans in 2016—and future losses because of natural decrease (more deaths than births), it’s unlikely that an increase in post-9/11 veterans in the coming years will reverse the trend of rural veteran population decline. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Rural Veterans at a Glance, released November 2013.

In recent years, population has declined in rural areas

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Population change includes two major components: natural change (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migrants minus out-migrants). While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. Population growth from natural change (more births than deaths, also known as natural increase) was the norm historically. Between 2010 and 2016, however, the increase in rural population from natural change (270,000 more births than deaths) has not kept pace with the decrease in population from net migration (462,000 more people moved out than moved in). Declining birth rates, increasing mortality rates among working-age adults, and an aging population have led to the emergence of natural decrease (more deaths than births) in hundreds of U.S. counties—most of them rural. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Rural population change varies across the United States

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The number of people living in rural (nonmetro) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2016, representing 14 percent of U.S. residents. Population in rural counties continued to decline slightly for a sixth straight year in 2015-16, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimates. Rural population loss has been relatively small—192,000 fewer people in 2016 compared with 2010, a decline of just 0.4 percent. However, this overall trend masks substantial regional and local variation. Population declined by 790,000 people in the 1,350 rural counties that lost population since 2010. Extensive population-loss regions are evident throughout the Eastern United States. On the other hand, 466 rural counties grew at moderate rates (below the national average of 4.5 percent) and added 245,000 people. Many of these counties are located in recreation or retirement destinations, such as in the Intermountain West or southern Appalachia. The remaining 160 rural counties that increased at rates above 4.5 percent added 353,000 people. The highest rates of growth during 2010-16 occurred in rural counties with booming energy sectors, such as those centered in western North Dakota’s Williston Basin. However, these counties experienced a considerable population slowdown in 2015-16, in line with declines in oil and gas production. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Population & Migration, updated June 2017.

Hispanics help some rural counties avoid population loss

Monday, September 19, 2016

Between 2010 and 2015, the population of rural and small-town America declined by 0.3 percent, according to Census population estimates. This loss of 137,000 people was a relatively small change that masked larger racial-ethnic trends. The non-Hispanic White population declined by 738,000 in rural (nonmetro) counties, while all other racial-ethnic groups increased by 601,000. The rural Hispanic population alone grew by 376,000 (10 percent) during this time period. The increasing Hispanic population helped nearly 10 percent of rural counties (188 counties) in Texas, New Mexico, and 32 other states maintain population growth, continuing a 30-year trend. Immigration and domestic migration drove this trend early on as Hispanic workers filled jobs in textiles, food processing, and other agricultural-related industries. Today, immigration has slowed and most of the growth in the rural Hispanic population comes from natural increase (more births than deaths). The resulting change in the composition of Hispanic families may lead to new community needs for housing, schools, and family services. Find county-level maps and data on the U.S. Hispanic population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.

Two demographic trends contribute to the concentration of older populations in some rural counties

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For nearly 4 out of 10 rural counties in the U.S., 20 percent or more of the population was 65 years or older in 2015, compared with about 1 in 10 urban counties. Two long-term demographic trends help explain the concentration of older population in some of these rural “older-age” counties. First, retirees and near-retirees tend to migrate to more scenic destinations; about a third of older-age rural counties are classified by ERS as being retirement destinations, having recreation-based economies, or both. Second, young-adults tend to migrate away from more remote and less scenic rural counties, while older residents stay; another third of older-age rural counties are classified as persistent population loss counties. Many of the remaining third of older-age counties combine retiree attraction with young-adult out-migration, such as in the Ozarks in northern Arkansas or along the Virginia-North Carolina border. While these two trends create similar county age profiles, population growth and population decline generate different challenges for the communities involved. This map is based on data found in the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.

Nonmetro population change varies across the United States

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Population loss in nonmetro counties reached nearly 150,000 between July 2010 and July 2015, but this overall net loss of just -0.3 percent masks significant regional and local demographic diversity. First, the number of individual nonmetro counties losing population in a 5-year period reached a 50-year high of 1,320, with a net population loss of nearly 650,000. Since the Great Recession (which ended in mid-2009), new areas of population loss have emerged throughout the eastern United States, especially in manufacturing-dependent regions. Second, the 501 nonmetro counties with moderate population growth (less than 4 percent during 2010-15) together added just over 200,000 people. Many of these moderate-growth counties are located in rural parts of the Mountain West, southern Appalachia, and other scenic areas where population growth slowed considerably for the first time in decades. Third, most nonmetro population growth was concentrated in just 154 counties that grew by 4 percent or more, adding close to 300,000 people. Workers attracted to the oil and gas boom caused rapid growth in the northern Great Plains, western and southern Texas, and southeastern New Mexico. However, recent production cutbacks in these regions slowed population growth in mining-dependent counties in the past year (2014-15). At the same time, modest population recovery can be seen in nonmetro counties adjacent to metropolitan areas (in the path of renewed suburbanization) and in scenic counties with recreation-based economies. This map is based on the ERS topic page on rural Population and Migration and the June 2016 Amber Waves finding, "Five Years of Population Loss in Rural and Small-Town America May Be Ending.”

Racial/ethnic diversity in rural America is increasing

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Racial and ethnic minorities made up 21 percent of rural residents in 2014. Hispanics (who may be of any race) and Asians are the fastest growing minority groups in the United States as a whole and in rural areas. Over 2010-14, the rural Hispanic population increased 9.2 percent, and their share of the total rural population rose from 7.5 to 8.2 percent. Asians and Pacific Islanders represent a small share of the rural population—about 1 percent—but their population grew by 18 percent between 2010 and 2014, while rural Native American and Black populations grew at more modest rates. This is in contrast to the rural non-Hispanic White population, which declined by 1.7 percent between 2010 and 2014. Overall rural population loss (which was -0.2 percent for the period) would have been much higher if not for the growth in the rural racial and ethnic minority groups. Rural minorities tend to be younger on average and have larger families than non-Hispanic Whites, and this, along with net migration, is reflected in the varying growth rates. This chart updates one found in the ERS publication, An Illustrated Guide to Research Findings from USDA's Economic Research Service.

The number and share of veterans living in rural America is declining

Friday, May 27, 2016

The number of veterans living in rural areas has been falling at an increasing rate, dropping from about 4.5 million in 2007 to 3.4 million in 2014, despite an influx of more than 100,000 post-9/11 veterans over the same period. This overall decline was largely due to natural decrease in the pre-Vietnam era population. The World War II rural veteran cohort alone declined by more than 400,000, with additional losses among all other service cohorts. Despite these declines, veterans continue to be overrepresented in rural America. In 2014, rural areas accounted for 17.5 percent of the total veteran population but only 14.7 percent of the U.S. civilian adult population. However, the rural share of the veteran population has been declining and is likely to decline further in the near future, as the newest veteran cohorts have overwhelmingly returned to urban areas and the current rural veteran population ages. Find county-level maps and data on the U.S. veteran population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.

Industry specialization varies across rural counties

Monday, May 23, 2016

The ERS county economic typology codes are a classification system that provide a tool to analyze and characterize the economic dependence of U.S. counties. This typology reveals that rural (nonmetropolitan) counties have diverse industrial specializations. Where farming was once almost synonymous with rural, the predominance of farming as an industry in rural areas of the United States is now largely confined to the Plains States, and only 6 percent of the rural population in 2015 lived in the 391 rural farming-dependent counties. In contrast, although also declining in number, manufacturing predominated in the economies of a similar number of rural counties (351)—concentrated mainly east of the Mississippi but also including a scattering of counties further west—and these account for about 22 percent of the rural population. The 183 rural mining dependent counties accounted for 7 percent of rural population in 2015, and were the only economic type among rural counties to see strong population growth (1.6 percent) in 2010-15. A version of this map is found in the Amber Waves article, “ERS County Economic Types Show a Changing Rural Landscape,” and the underlying codes may be found in the ERS data product, County Typology Codes.

First period of decline in U.S. rural population may be ending

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The total number of people living in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties remained essentially unchanged between July 2014 and July 2015, after 4 years of modest population losses. The 2014-15 improvement in rural population change coincides with an improvement in rural employment growth and suggests that this first-ever period of overall population decline (from 2010 to 2015) may be ending. Rural population change is the result of two components: net migration (the difference between the number of people moving into and out of rural counties) and natural increase (the difference between the number of births and deaths). Both components have contributed to the loss in rural population since 2010. A sharp, cyclical downturn in net migration, beginning with the housing market collapse in 2007, appears to have bottomed out in 2012. The Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009) also contributed to a downturn in natural increase, as fewer births occur during times of economic uncertainty. Falling birth rates and an aging population have steadily reduced population growth from natural increase in rural counties over time, increasing the chances of overall rural population decline in the future. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated March 24, 2016.

Farming is important to the economies of many counties in the Plains States

Monday, January 11, 2016

ERS determined that farming was an important part of the local economy in 391 nonmetro counties and 53 metro counties, based on data on farming employment and earnings from the period 2010-12. These farming-dependent counties had at least 25 percent of average annual employee and self-proprietor personal earnings attributable to farming during 2010-12, or 16 percent or more of county jobs in farming in the same period, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The proportion of earnings derived from farming ranged up to 83 percent of total employee and self-proprietor personal earnings and farming employment ranged up to 49 percent of total jobs among farming-dependent counties. Farming-dependent counties were primarily located in sparsely populated areas remote from major urban centers and are geographically concentrated in the Midwest and Great Plains. ERS analysis reveals the total number of farming-dependent counties fell from 511 in 2001 to 444 in 2010-12, continuing its long-term decline. A version of this map is found in the Amber Waves article, “ERS County Economic Types Show a Changing Rural Landscape,” and the underlying codes may be found in the ERS data product, County Typology Codes, updated December 7, 2015.

Charts of Note header image for left nav