Magazine article Amber Waves

Five Years of Population Loss in Rural and Small-Town America May Be Ending

Magazine article Amber Waves

Five Years of Population Loss in Rural and Small-Town America May Be Ending

Article excerpt

The population in U.S. nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties stood at 46.2 million in July 2015-14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population declined by just 4,000 from July 2014 to July 2015 after 4 years of population losses averaging 33,000 yearly, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2014-15 improvement in nonmetro population change coincides with rural economic recovery and suggests that this first-ever period of overall population decline (from 2010 to 2015) may be ending.

County population change includes two components: natural change (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migrants minus out-migrants). Nonmetro population growth from net migration peaked in 2006, then declined precipitously in response to rising unemployment, housing-market challenges, and other factors. Suburban expansion and migration to scenic, retirement/recreation destinations were primary drivers of nonmetro in-migration for several decades, but for the time being at least, their influence has considerably weakened. Widespread job losses in rural manufacturing caused by the recent economic recession, increased global competition, and technological changes contributed to the downturn in net migration, especially in eastern parts of the United States. However, this downturn appears to have bottomed out in 2012, and improving population trends since then coincide with a marked improvement in nonmetro employment growth. …

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