#729 – Rural Population Trends

Posted on | The Agurban

We are encouraged by a recent report in the USDA’s Amber Waves newsletter regarding rural population trends. We understand that rural living isn’t for everyone, but those that live there generally have a real affinity for non-urban living.

Rural Population Trends
by John Cromartie and Dennis Vilorio, February 15, 2019

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 small overall increase continues an upturn in rural population since 2011-12, which stems from increasing rates of net migration from urban (metro) areas. Since 2011, fewer people have been moving out of rural areas and more people have been moving in. Rural net migration increased from -0.25 percent in 2011-12 to essentially zero in 2016-17. Despite zero net migration, rural population increased because, during the same period, the population growth rate from natural change (births minus deaths) remained positive—though it dropped from 0.12 percent to 0.08 percent.

The overall rural population has remained close to 46.1 million since 2013. Annual population losses averaged -0.1 percent between 2012-13 and 2015-16, and population gain during 2016-17 was 0.1 percent. However, national population trends mask great variation at the local level. People moving to rural areas tend to persistently favor more densely settled rural areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Fewer are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and more remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas.

Over 1,100 rural counties (58 percent) showed positive changes in net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants) between 2012-13 and 2016-17:

  • 408 rural counties showed lower net outmigration during 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. These appear in all parts of the country, including more economically challenged areas in the northern Appalachians and southern Coastal Plains. These rural counties continue to experience more people leaving than arriving, but the gap has been closing.
  • 485 rural counties switched from net out- to net inmigration. Most of these counties are in high-amenity regions, such as Florida, the Upper Great Lakes, and the Pacific Northwest.
  • 251 rural counties showed higher net inmigration in 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. These counties were mostly in areas attractive to newcomers or return migrants, including the southern Appalachians, the Ozarks, and the Hill Country of central Texas. These rural counties attracted more people than they lost in 2012-2013, and the gap grew in 2016-2017.