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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.

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.

Disability and poverty rates among rural veterans have increased from 2008 to 2014

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In 2008, more than 2.4 million—8.2 percent—of the rural working-age population (18 to 64 years old) were veterans. That number declined to 1.5 million (5.9 percent) in 2014. During that period, however, the share of working-age rural veterans with a disability increased (from 20.3 percent to 22.6 percent), as did their poverty rate (from 8.9 percent to 11.0 percent). The disabled are more likely to live in poverty, particularly when the disability is work limiting, and veterans are more likely to report a work-limiting disability than comparable nonveterans. Limited labor force participation and economic constraints often persist for persons with disabilities; however, vocational services and policy initiatives aim to support work among them. Disabled working-age veterans were less likely to be in poverty (18.8 percent) than their nonveteran counterparts (32.8 percent) in 2014. This chart is based on data found in the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.

New county patterns of U.S. Hispanic population change emerge

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hispanic population growth has slowed in both rural (nonmetro) and urban (metro) areas of the United States since the Great Recession, due to lower fertility rates and a decline in immigration, especially from Mexico. These demographic trends, along with shifts in the location of job opportunities, shifted geographic patterns of Hispanic population growth and decline across rural counties. According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, rural population growth remains above 2 percent per year for Hispanics, higher than for the non-Hispanic population (which is declining), but less than half the rate of growth seen during the 1990s and early 2000s. This downturn is most visible in farming and ranching counties in the American Southwest and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, areas that have for centuries had large Hispanic concentrations. Lower immigration contributed to this decrease, as did migration to new energy-sector jobs, most noticeable in the northern Great Plains in response to the shale oil and gas boom. Growth rates over 75 percent occurred in 79 rural counties, generally areas with few Hispanics in 2010 that added fewer than 10,000 new Hispanic residents as a whole. This map is based on the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.

Nonmetro Hispanics tend to be younger than non-Hispanics

Monday, September 28, 2015

Nonmetro America is likely to become more ethnically diverse in the coming years; the proportion of Hispanics will increase due to their younger age structure and higher birth rates compared with non-Hispanic Whites. In nonmetro counties as a whole, 48 percent of the Hispanic population is under the age of 25, compared with 29 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. According to data from the American Community Survey, in 2014, the median age for nonmetro Hispanics was 26.0 years, much lower than the median of 44.3 years for non-Hispanic Whites. For the country as a whole, 2013 data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that there were 72.9 births per every 1,000 Hispanic women ages 15-44, compared with 58.7 births per 1,000 non-Hispanic White women of the same age. During 2010-14, the nonmetro Hispanic population increased by 8.6 percent, while the nonmetro non-Hispanic White population declined by 1.6 percent. The overall nonmetro population loss of -0.25 percent between 2010 and 2014 would have been much larger had it not been for the growth in the Hispanic population. This chart updates one found in Rural Hispanics At A Glance, EIB-8.

Population change is uneven across rural and small-town America

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The number of rural (nonmetropolitan) counties that lost population in 2010-14 reached a historic high of 1,310. The recent economic recession, increased global competition, and technological changes led to widespread job losses in rural manufacturing. Population loss occurred throughout the eastern United States, especially in manufacturing-dependent regions such as along the North Carolina-Virginia border and southern Ohio. Population growth did occur in 666 nonmetro counties. Large sections of the northern Great Plains started to gain population after decades of persistent decline, due largely to the inmigration of workers capitalizing on the shale oil and gas production boom. Nonmetro counties in southeastern New Mexico and parts of eastern Texas also gained population from energy-related job growth. This chart appears in the August 2015 Amber Waves finding, “Population Loss in Nonmetro Counties Continues.”

Two-thirds of U.S. nonmetro counties lost population over 2010-14

Monday, June 29, 2015

During 2010-14, the number of nonmetro counties that lost population reached a historic high of 1,310. County population loss stems from two possible sources: more people leaving a county than moving into it (net outmigration) and/or more people dying than are being born (natural decrease). Historically, the vast majority of counties that lost population still continued to experience natural increase, just not enough to offset losses from net outmigration (this scenario describes less than half of the 2010-14 population loss counties). The number of nonmetro counties with population loss from both net out-migration and natural decrease grew from 387 before the recession (2003-07) to 622 during 2010-14. Clusters of counties experiencing this demographic ‘double-jeopardy’ have expanded, especially in Alabama, southern Appalachia, along the Virginia-North Carolina border, and in New England. The rising number of double-jeopardy counties signals new challenges in maintaining future population growth and sustained economic development. This map is based on information found in the Population & Migration topic page, updated June 2015.

Return migration among young families partially offsets rural population loss

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rural population loss is generally characterized as young people leaving. A typical nonmetropolitan county (based on the 50th percentile, or median, statistic) lost 28 percent of their 20-24 year olds to net out-migration during 2000-10, compared to just an 8-percent decline in the typical metropolitan county. However, stemming rural population loss may depend less on retaining young adults after high school than on attracting them back as they settle down to start careers and raise children. Median net migration rates in nonmetropolitan counties are highest among adults 30-34 and children 5-9. Interviews with rural return migrants showed that most came home with spouses and brought young children with them or soon started families. Conversations about returning centered on the value of family connections for child-raising in a small town environment. Return migrants described other aspects of home that bolstered their decision to move back, including schools with smaller class sizes, access to outdoor recreation, and shorter trips for work and shopping. This chart is found in the ERS report, Factors Affecting Former Residents' Returning to Rural Communities, ERR-185, May 2015.

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