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Census Bureau sees rural population decline

Rural area with cattle by pondAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, rural America experienced an overall loss of 21,000 people between July 2015 and July 2016, after accounting for births, deaths and people leaving small towns for larger areas. The rural population now stands at about 46.1 million people, or about 14 percent of the U.S. population. It was at 21 percent in 2000, though definitions of rural America and data collection techniques have since changed.

“Although many rural counties have shown population losses for decades, this is the first period on record of overall rural population decline,” said John Cromartie, an analyst with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, who studies rural demographics.

The major problem is that the number of births in rural America no longer offsets the combination of mortalities and migration.

Since 2010, there were 270,000 more births than deaths in the rural population. But an estimated 462,000 people left rural America, according to Census data, accounting for the record shortfall.

The result – from 2010 to 2016, some 325 rural counties had a population decrease because of natural change (births and deaths) for the first time. That’s in addition to 645 rural counties that saw their first natural change population falloff between 2000 to 2009.

“Net migration rates were often much lower in the past – during the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s – but were always offset by higher rates of natural change,” Cromartie said.

Areas that rely on agriculture have seen the largest population losses, including the Corn Belt and parts of the Great Plains, Cromartie said. Appalachian areas from Kentucky to New York have also lost population, while rural counties closer to metropolitan areas have fared better.

“Even if temporary, this small but historic shift to overall population loss highlights a growing demographic challenge facing many regions across rural and small-town America: Population growth from natural increase is no longer large enough to counter cyclical net migration losses,” Cromartie said.


Source: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Steven Johnson, staff writer